NFL Pre-Season Week 2 Review

There are too many preseason games for any sane man to cover, so I cut my losses with week one and moved on. Week 2 was a beauty, with the first game of the week putting cutting power through the gaudy neon green DREAM TEAM sign in Philadelphia. Michael Vick threw 3 interceptions and was demoralized by the Steelers defense, who quickly made work of Vince Young as well. That is not good for Vick, considering Big Andy might have the wild idea to give Vince Young a shot at the starting job if all is not well in the regular season.

I will again reiterate my lack of faith in the new Eagles defensive scheme, which seems to have no real leader (Casey Matthews is a rookie) and will be beat by any quarterback with a few years under his belt. . Asante Samuel looked uncomfortable, Rodgers-Cromartie is now a cheap imitation of Charles Woodson. Nnamdi Asomugha made a mistake looking for a team that had no plan defensively. He will come to rue the day he didn’t go to either Houston (Wade Phillips), Dallas (Rob Ryan) or New York (Rex Ryan).

The Steelers are the team everyone in the NFC will be tested against this year. They are the most substantive and best coached run defense in the NFL. The Jets are a close second. Though the Steelers line and linebacking core seems to be on it’s last legs with guys like Harrison, Farrier and Smith all getting into the upper 30’s, there are a few bright spots like Ziggy Hood, Lawrence Timmons and Lamarr Woodley showing that the yellow and black will live on in good hands.

Rashard Mendenhall, at 24, has become one of the best running backs in the AFC. He has balance and agility that makes Chris Johnson look one dimensional. He has spun out of hundreds of tackles with the grace of a ballet dancer. As usual, the Steelers offense will be a strange mix of power running, go routes, and improvisational scrambles that usually results in touchdowns.

Game 2 (Week 1 Overrun) – Bengals Vs. Lions

Andy Dalton has a tough road ahead. He is in a division that is going to bruise him like Brett Favre at an early age. There will be no mercy for the Mike Brown Bengals. They are going right for the throat. Clint Boling and Andre Smith better play like Pro Bowlers, because Andy Dalton is going to need someone to stop the onslaught of defensive lineman coming to break him in half on 3rd down.

The frustrating thing for a guy like AJ Green is that he will be left standing halfway down the field for most of the game wondering where the ball went. Things are going to get especially frustrating if the Bengals lose Dalton to injury. Luckily there is a guy that is already in Green’s position, and that is Jermaine Gresham, who some team will pick up down the road and turn into a 3 time Pro Bowler.

Matthew Stafford has the set of weapons around him to win the division. Jahvid Best has some much needed experience, Calvin Johnson is a physical specimen with great hands, and Brandon Pettigrew can bail Stafford out of most double-teams to Johnson. If Stafford doesn’t lose his arm completely, he will be able to finally grab this team a wild card spot in the playoffs, which will be like a Super Bowl to Detroit fans.

Silver Crush. That’s the fun of being a Lions fan. Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh making 30 year old offensive lineman look slow and fat. Sadly, we have yet to see the Silver Crush at full force, which consists of Fairley, Jackson, Suh and Vanden Bosch as the front four. The Lions have little to no help between linebacker and secondary, so that front four will have to be the best in the league to keep opposing teams out of the end zone. Will it be a thug defense? Maybe, but most street fights put the WWE to shame.

Game 3 – Patriots vs. Buccaneers

Bill Belichick does not mean to embarrass. He has created a system by which to expose every weak facet of an opposing defense, and for the Buccaneers that is their youth. Trying to lineup and call the right plays against a team like the Patriots requires weeks of preparation and practice. (Gerald McCoy actually requested a gentleman’s timeout during the game). The Buccaneers did not have that sort of time. They had a week, and even then they were still trying to actually implement the defense while simultaneously getting ready for the league’s most productive offense.

The Buccaneers secondary is going to have to tighten up if they want to hang in the NFC South. Ronde Barber will have to coach up his two rookies in Ahmad Black and Anthony Gaitor if this team is going to successfully utilize that highly touted front three (Bowers, Clayborn, McCoy).

The Patriots are starting to look closer and closer to the thing most Jet fans fear. Stevan Ridley is a legitimate running back, Aaron Hernandez becomes larger and faster everyday, and Wes Welker will again find the holes you thought your defense didn’t have. The other terrifying about the Patriots? Give defensive lineman who are 1st round picks, with 7 Pro Bowls between three of them.

Oh yes, I completely forgot about the Jets week one game. There was a Jets game last week and it was eerily reminiscent to the Ravens game last year. What looked different? Jeremy Kerley, who makes DeSean Jackson look big. If Kerley is going to be a receiver in the NFL, he needs to fill out that frame, because 6’2 corners are going to do work on him. Kenrick Ellis looked good, and Vlad Ducasse looks like the Jets version of Joba Chamberlain. He has the physical traits, I just have my doubts about this experiment to switch him through all line positions without a second year of OTA’s under his belt.

Greg McElroy showed what he needed to for a 7th round rookie quarterback. He is physically disadvantaged, but with good receivers, a good running game, and one of the best offensive lines in the league, he can rest easy knowing all he has to do in the event of a Sanchez injury is make the right reads, let the run game go, and not turn the ball over.

To his credit, McElroy showed how incredibly smart he is , after being given some time to think about the opposing defense and huddle with Mark Sanchez, he was able to engineer a game winning drive that was halted only by a dropped ball in the endzone. For a quarterback who was only supposed to play a quarter or two, McElroy played three and looked good for two of them.

Jets vs. Bengals: What To Watch For

The Jets 20-16 loss in Houston last week left Jets fans concerned about depth on the roster. Thankfully the big pieces to the puzzle, Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene, Santonio Holmes and the starting defense were sharp in limited action. Perimeter issues rose up however upon review of the contest, primarily that of the club’s backups heading into 2011 season. That said, here is what to watch for Sunday night at home as the Bengals come to town.

PLAX IS BACK:  It has taken two plus seasons but Plaxico Burress will finally return to a football field Sunday night. Burress will start after sitting the first week against Houston due to an ankle injury. All eyes will be on number 17 to see how he cuts, runs and handles game one of his partnership with new QB Mark Sanchez. The stadium will be rocking when Plax touches the football, making it the most exciting story of the night.

THE DUCASSE MICROSCOPE: Aside from Burress, no player will be scrutinized every single play by Jets fans though the way Vlad Ducasse will. The second year Jet caught the evil eye of many in Jets nation for his inability to slide laterally consistent enough in week one of preseason.

Ducasse is a key backup in more than one position on the offensive line this year and that scares alot of folks. Vlad needs a solid night to begin to build his own confidence. It’s not easy constantly switching positions and assignments. Howver, that is what the Jets have in store for him this year so he must start to provide a sense of calm to those around him. The danger created by his failure to achieve that is too scary to even talk about.

MAYBIN OR MAYBE NOT? Aaron Maybin turned out to be Buffalo’s Vernon Gholston. A first round bust of monumental proportions. However, as a Jet, the speed rushing LB simply needs to be disruptive during a handful of snaps each a week. Is Maybin going to be a steal, or an ex Jet by the opener?

MOVE CUMBERLAND AND TURNER UP: TE Jeff Cumberland took matters into his own hands last Monday. Was that a result of his going against the second and third string? We’d like to see Cumberland run routes early in this one, to get a sense of the type of weapon he could be in a a two TE set. Perhaps the Jets could even feature a two TE set with Dustin Keller on passing downs as well.

Patrick Turner’s hands looked great in Houston. His size was a factor in the red zone with his short slant route TD. Let’s see him work against the Benglas starting corners. What a nice WR corps this could turn into if Turner joins Kerley as new faces mixed in with older players like Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, and Derrick Mason.

POWELL’S CHANCE: With RB’s Shonn Greene out and Joe McKnight one week removed from a concussion, Powell may be poised to make his bid for a spot in the rotation. Ladainian Tomlinson will get a bunch of reps but the rest could go to Powell should McKnight get dinged up early on.

Last week Powell looked quick, cut nicely, and waited patiently for his blockers. We wait not so patiently to see him do it behind Nick Mangold and company. Sunday night may be Powell’s chance to show that he can be a guy who could contribute in 2011.

Offensive Injuries Concerning For Jets

Both quarterback Mark Brunell (calf) and wide receiver Derrick Mason (knee) left the practice field today and are now questionable for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Considering the Jets depth issues at both positions, these injuries are nothing to minimize. Greg McElroy was encouraging at times in his pre-season debut but you don’t want a rookie 7th round pick being a snap away from playing. Honestly, I don’t want Brunell a snap away from playing either and would like to see the Jets coax Marc Bulger out of retirement or maybe sign Brodie Croyle. Either way, the Jets depth at quarterback is seriously shaky.

At wide receiver, Plaxico Burress is still returning from an ankle injury and Jeremy Kerley is only a rookie. Mark Sanchez needs as many reps as possible with his new receiving core to gain the necessary chemistry. However, a Mason injury could give more reps to young players like Logan Payne, Patrick Turner, Scotty McKnight and Danny DePalma as they battle for the fifth receiver spot. All of them have shown potential at times, and the spot remains wide open.

Injuries at an increased rate were to be expected with this messed up off-season, however quarterback and receiver are areas the Jets especially need to stay healthy at.

Early Thoughts On Jets vs. Bengals

The New York Jets second pre-season game will take place this Sunday at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. Unlike the opener, the starters are expected to get a full half of work. A few key players won’t participate including Brandon Moore, Sione Pouha, and Shonn Green. However, Plaxico Burress will take the field for the first time in a Jets uniform.

Here are a few things we are hoping to see Sunday night –

1. Coming Up – Continued accuracy, confidence, and leadership from Mark Sanchez. I also expect to see him push the ball down the field a little more. Most important, is that he stays healthy which could be a bit of a concern with Vladimir Ducasse starting at guard in place of Brandon Moore.

2. Signs Of Life – Speaking of Ducasse, it would be nice to see him flash any kind of potential or improvement after a difficult opening to the pre-season last week. The Jets need him now more than ever as he is the team’s top backup. Another bad performance from him and the Jets will likely have a veteran signed by the time the fourth quarter comes to an end.

3. Pass Rush – Whether it is Jamaal Westerman, newly signed Aaron Maybin, or Garrett McIntyre building on his two sack performance from last week, one of the outside linebackers needs to get after the quarterback, preferably against the Bengals first unit.

4. Plax – I am sure Brian Schottenheimer will design a few plays to get him involved early and if the Jets get in the red-zone, he will get a few shots. It will just be interesting to see him back on the field again and how he responds to the contact from another team.

5. The Battle For Carries – With Shonn Greene out of the line-up and LaDainian Tomlinson not likely to see extended action. Joe McKnight, who is just coming back from a concussion but is expected to play and Bilal Powell will both have a chance to make a statement in extended action. McKnight is in need a of a big play or two and Powell will look to build on a solid debut.

Sunday Night Is Powell’s Time To Shine

It wasn’t the nine carries for 25 yards against Houston last Monday night that has Jets fans both curious and excited about the potential of Bilal Powell. It was the athleticism and calm sensibility that he displayed from the carries. Powell cut back, broke out of packs, waited patiently for his blockers, showed a burst, and an energy. With Shonn Greene out Sunday night due to a skin infection and Joe McKnight dealing with the concussion received against the Texans, the bulk of the work against the Bengals will be handed to Ladainian Tomlinson, and Powell.

Powell had eleven touchdowns and a combined 5.6 yards average from the line of scrimmage as a senior at Louisville. Those numbers somewhat mirror the eight touchdown, 6.2 rushing yards per carry accomplishments that McKnight, also battling for the number three job, achieved during his senior year at USC.

At this time last year, McKnight was in the doghouse. A fumbling, vomiting rookie who was unsure of himself. This year, especially after his 158 yard performance against the Bills in the final week heading into camp, McKnight began camp as third on the depth chart. With the upside potential to receive more work provided that he could turn his speed and solid hands into chunks of yardage. McKnight still may be that weapon for Gang Green.

This Sunday night however, is Powell’s chance to show the Jets what he can be, as he gets work against the Bengals first team defense. A solid night from the Jets fourth round selection in this year’s NFL draft will create an interesting backfield drama as training camp heads into the latter stages.

Long Time Gone: 1 Week And It Is Already Love

I recently made the decision to go ahead and be a professional about my reporting, so I decided to drop $20 for the NFL preseason live season pass. Money well spent. All preseason games in HD streamed to your computer without commercials and halftime shows. The only problem is, you have to wait 24 hours after the game ends to watch it. Which means that in my attempt to cover all the preseason games I have successfully written about two. I have four more on the way. It is a start.

The first, and the funniest, was the Patriots vs. Jaguars game. It was a screamer. If you are a Patriots fan, you will undoubtedly get that warm tingly feeling you always do before you get smacked out of the playoffs. 2007 is a long time ago. Aaron Hernandez can, and probably will go to the Pro Bowl this year. He has the size and the good hands. He also has Tom Brady throwing him the ball, which is why Chad Johnson, that’s right, Chad Johnson, will go to the Pro Bowl too.

The backups for New England are like two mutant children of Tom Brady, with Brian Hoyer having the “don’t throw a pick” mentality and Bradyesque sense of timing in the pocket. Ryan Mallett however, has an arm that puts most Pro bowl quarterbacks to shame. If he can comprehend the Patriots system, he has the physical traits to even outsling Brady.

Steven Ridley. LSU. SEC running backs go through things every Saturday that would make grown men beg for mercy. If you can run in the SEC, you can run in the NFL. It helps that Ridley has good hands. The scary thing about adding a guy like Ridley is that the Patriots have finally acquired the power running game that teams like the Jets and the Steelers live on.

You begin to notice things about the Patriots when you watch their preseason game. You begin to notice how good the system is, how exact the routes are, how their quarterbacks rarely have pockets or plays that break down.

Turning to the Jaguars: if Gabbert is going to survive in the NFL, that offensive line is going to have to hold up. With a third round rookie from Lehigh (Editor Note, I graduated from Lehigh and don’t appreciate this comment) on the line, that may not be possible. There is not that much depth and Gabbert is going to have to live off checkdowns to Mercedes Lewis and Maurice Jones Drew breaking 10 yard runs.

Realistically the Jaguars can go 8-8. The Jaguars have two rookie DB’s, and a lack of superstar talent anywhere. This may be the year that Maurice Jones Drew doesn’t make the Pro Bowl. There seems also to be a lack of discipline and or superstar talent throughout the linebacking core, which is odd considering Jack Del Rio was a star linebacker at USC.

EAGLES vs. RAVENS.: YING YANG TWINS

The Eagles and Ravens are stacked. Each team has 10 Pro Bowlers spread out on both sides of the ball. The Eagles, however, are not quite as substantive as their on paper wealth. Watching these teams matchup is like watching two equally strong men arm wrestle for 60 minutes. The Eagles have the pass. The Ravens have the run. The Ravens have the blitz. The Eagles have the zone.

Philadelphia will run the ball this year. The Eagles will make absurdly long pass plays off the success of the run. The only thing that scares me about the Eagles is their strange move to put their offensive line coach in a new role as the defensive coordinator. Even the announcers were questioning the move. I understand he’s got passion, but it takes years to understand the intricacies of an NFL defense. It’s no surprise that Rex Ryan’s success with the Jets took 10 years of assistant coaching jobs to create a number one defense. Mixing zone corners and man corners, pass rushers and run blockers, is not something that can be done with great success in the first year.

Oh yeah, and Casey Matthews is going to run the defense on the field. That’s right, a rookie linebacker. I understand the Matthews family has some sort of strange Thorlike knowledge and success in football but rookies don’t have the experience to run an NFL defense. The Eagles have the best corner trio in the league, the best D line, but they also have 3 rookie linebackers.

The changing of the guard is finally occuring for the Ravens. The secondary has 1st and 5th round rookies working alongside Ed Reed, who is probably on his last year as a Pro Bowl safety. The linebackers are getting up there and the D line has to live off the big plays of Haloti Ngata. If all goes well, the Ravens will march into the playoffs at 11 and 5.

CARDINALS VS. RAIDERS: WITHOUT HOPE, THERE IS NOTHING

Watching this game was not easy. The Raiders are a shell of their former psychopathic selves, though they have a D line that is respectable (and aging) by Oakland standards. Luckily their linebackers are young enough to make up for the age of the big men up front. Jason Campbell has enough pieces around him to run a balanced attack between Darren McFadden, Darius Heyward Bey and two rookie tight ends.

Apparently Kevin Kolb went out and made a few Pro Bowls, because that’s how people like to treat him nowadays. Big Andy can’t be wrong. No way. That mustache is truth incarnate.

I have a feeling Andy Reid pulled a fast one on Arizona. Kolb will not make the Pro Bowl, and Larry Fitzgerald will be the most underutilized great receiver of the last 10 years. The Cardinals are going to attempt to run the ball but Beanie Wells is not a top 10 running back and he will be out catching passes in the flat more than he will be running off tackle.

If the Cardinals attempt to win the NFC West, they will need big plays from their defense. Sam Acho will have to step up in his rookie year and David Carter will have to give relief to Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams.

I am not a betting man, but if I was, I would say the Cardinals would be lucky if they stole a wildcard slot for the playoffs, because the NFC West has a few teams on the rise. I’m talking to you Sam Bradford. I will not yet speak of Tarvaris Jackson.

The game itself was somewhat balanced, though if they were to meet in the regular season, I would take the Raiders by 10. They are the cool new team to root for. Especially because I never had the opportunity to see Al Davis pre electroshock therapy. Raiders go 9 and 7 and the doldrums set in once again.

BRONCOS VS COWBOYS: REDNECKS, TYCOONS, SKIERS AND HIPPIES

I am an unabashed fan of the Ryan brothers. I will watch them coach peewee football. I will even watch them eat. So will the Ryan defense be successful in Dallas?

Rob Ryan, as could be expected with two weeks of practice, had very little to show in his first preseason game. A Ryan defense takes months to build, experiment with and run properly. It’s the football equivalent of SKUNKWORKS. Luckily, Jerry Jones did not get all hot and bothered by the highly ranked offensive weapons in this year’s draft and gave Ryan a 5th round DB and a 2nd round linebacker. The real trick to this Dallas defense will be the pressure created by Marcus Spears and Jay Ratliff. The Cowboys do not have the corner talent to leave Jenkins and Newman on an island at all times, so Ryan will occasionally have rush two, three or four to keep their corners out of trouble against big time receivers.

The Broncos have somehow become the soap opera of the NFL. People HATE Tim Tebow. Merril Hoge must have been snuffed by Tebow at some point because he is on a mission to destroy any Tebow momentum. Perhaps Orton sent him a check. I always say a quarterback needs two full years in the NFL to be judged, so let’s see where we stand at the end of the season. This was one of the few games that went down to the wire. It had the feel of a rivalry begun anew, but it probably wont be, as the Cowboys seem to have genuine rivalries with the Redskins, Eagles and Giants. There is only so much rivalry hand. The Broncos have no hand.

Reasonable Expectations For Plaxico?

Plaxico Burress has finally returned to the practice field and is expected to play this Sunday night against the Cincinnati Bengals. Yet, considering his slow start to camp due to his ankle injury, what are reasonable expectations for him the rest of the pre-season?

I wouldn’t expect the Jets to stretch Burress too thin on Sunday, even if the starters play into the second quarter. They should be content with a few series from him, along with a catch or two. I would expect them to throw him a safe, short pass early in the game to get him in the flow and then hopefully get the chance to get him involved in the red-zone.

The following week against the Giants, you know Burress will be raring to go and Rex Ryan is the type of coach who will make sure everything that can be done to get Burress a touchdown, will be done…even if it is only a pre-season game. Hopefully, by that point he can put together a full half and really get into the flow of the offense.

None of the starters usually play in the pre-season finale, although if Burress doesn’t get enough work the next two weeks, they could give him a few reps. You still have to wonder if he will be ready to handle 60-70 reps week one against the Cowboys. Even if he isn’t, Derrick Mason is more than capable of stepping in.

I never envisioned Burress as 70 reception type guy for the Jets this year. If he can give them around 50, I’d be satisfied as long as he is producing in the red-zone. With Tom Moore now helping out, there is no reason he shouldn’t be able to give the team 6-8 touchdowns, at minimum. More importantly, you hope that he begins coming on strong late in the season as he gets his legs fully back under him and is ready to become the dominant force he once was in the post-season.

Jets Look To Improve Pass Rush: Sign Aaron Maybin

Let the Vernon Gholston 2.0 jokes begin.

The New York Jets have signed former Buffalo Bills linebacker Aaron Maybin, who was the 11th overall pick only two years ago. He didn’t record a sack through his first two seasons and couldn’t impress either of the two coaching staffs he was around enough to ever get a major contributing role on defense.

After dealing with a recent case of pneumonia, Maybin is 248 pounds and projects strictly as a pass rush specialist for the Jets, if he can manage to make the roster. Rex Ryan was never able to reclaim Vernon Gholston, but it is worth taking a shot on Maybin, who I am sure is receiving the veteran’s minimum. This could also serve notice to Jamaal Westerman who was quiet in the Jets pre-season opener.

The backup linebacker spots are wide open on the Jets, so a few strong showings from Maybin this pre-season could put him in a contributing spot on the Jets defense in 2011.

New York Jets Should Increase Jeff Cumberland’s Role

After an impressive 6 reception, 77 yard performance against the Houston Texans. It is time for offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to find a way to involve tight end Jeff Cumberland in some packages with the first unit. The Jets kept him on the roster all of last season as an inactive player, obviously believing he had a high amount of potential and he displayed it last night.

Cumberland is 6 foot 4, 260 pounds and had experience at both tight end and wide receiver in college at Illinois. He has terrific hands and looked good running in the open field last night. I would imagine he still has to improve on his blocking to become a more full time player, yet he could contribute as a pass catching weapon immediately.

If Plaxico Burress is missing time with an injury, Cumberland could provide some of the height the Jets are missing. Even with Burress in the line-up, he is another weapon to use in the red-zone and on passing downs. Dustin Keller is enough of a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses, never mind worrying about how to defend Cumberland if the Jets show a two tight end set.

Matthew Mulligan is basically like another tackle playing tight end. There is a danger in showing too much of a tendency by using Mulligan as the second tight end on running downs and Cumberland as the second tight end on only passing downs. Yet, if Cumberland can block somewhat adequately, the Jets should be able to incorporate him on offense. If he continues to grow and develop, he could become an excellent number two option at tight end behind Dustin Keller.

Rob Turner Out 2 Months With Broken Leg

The New York Jets suffered their first major injury of the 2011 season, when it was released today that backup lineman Robert Turner has a broken leg and could be out up to 2 months. Turner is a key backup for the Jets, as he is their top backup at center and guard, along with being a big part of their Jumbo packages as an extra tight end. The injury leaves Vladimir Ducasse as the Jets top backup along the offensive line, a scary thought for any body who watched the Jets pre-season opener.

Mike Tannenbaum needs to act immediately to fill this void and I wouldn’t be surprised if they moved to add a veteran like Shaun O’Hara, Leonard Davis, or Jonathan Stinchcomb by the end of the week. Many people will likely suggest giving Damien Woody a call but I highly doubt he would be comfortable coming back as a backup after being the team’s starting right tackle the past three years.

In some good news for the offensive line, Nick Mangold and Brandon Moore are both supposed to return to the practice field today. However, that doesn’t lower the need for the Jets front office to quickly improve their depth.