Friday Night brought us a number of interesting quarterback battles and debuts. A few receivers came out and really made their mark on Friday as well. It was night with some quality, and some preseason quagmires. So without further ado, here we go.
Late Thursday Games:
Dallas Cowboys 7 At San Diego Chargers 27
I mentioned in the game preview about how Dallas would be successful on Thursday if their defense was able to play more physical and provide more containment than they did last season, particularly against the run. That didn’t happen, as the Cowboys gave up 395 total yards of offense, a whopping 152 of which came on the ground. Conversely, Dallas only ran the ball for a combined 92 yards. For a team looking to create a more physical identity this wasn’t a good start. The only positive for Dallas was the play of Brandon Weeden, who orchestrated the Cowboys only touchdown drive and passed for over 100 yards. San Diego looked good on all fronts, as their overall depth was vastly superior to that of Dallas. The Chargers looked good on defense and were able to pound the ball on offense. 27 points is good for any team in the preseason, especially when those points all come from the offense.
Seattle Seahawks 16 At Denver Broncos 21
It was a game that was interesting simply because of how long the starters played. In a league where some teams don’t even allow their starting quarterbacks to take the field for the initial preseason contest, the Broncos played Peyton Manning well into the first quarter and Seattle was still letting Russell Wilson go at it in the second quarter. Seattle did not seem overly affected by the tighter enforcement of rules regarding pass coverage, and turned in a respectable performance in the first half. I do think that this defense is a touch weaker overall with the losses they incurred over the off-season, but it is still one of the top units in the game. Denver will be happy with the effort they got from new addition DeMarcus Ware, who provided a sack of Wilson, and will also be glad to have seen their first team offense score a touchdown, thought they seemed to have to work very to get it. The result didn’t matter in this one, both teams got what they wanted, and managed to stay healthy.
Miami Dolphins 10 At Atlanta Falcons 16
Both teams got what they wanted out of their starting offenses, as both teams rant the ball with promise, and both starting quarterbacks were perfect as the teams traded touchdowns early in the game. The Falcons look rejuvenated and healthy on offense while the Dolphins look like they will have a much more dynamic offense in 2014. Once the starters left though, the game digressed into a rough affair without much to comment on either way. The Falcons won the battle of the backups, and thus went on to win the game.
Buffalo Bills 20 At Carolina Panthers 18
The Buffalo Bills got much more out of EJ Manuel on Friday than they had at the Hall of Fame game as Buffalo beat Carolina. Manuel went 9/13 for 96 yards and helped the Bills pick up an early field goal. The other Bills’ quarterbacks reprised their Hall of Fame game performances with Thad Lewis struggling and Jeff Tuel finding the endzone, but also throwing an interception. The Panthers went without Cam Newton, but that didn’t stop rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin from finding the endzone on a beautiful adjustment off a Derek Anderson pass. The Panthers were hampered by poor play from backup Matt Blanchard, who went 1/7. Joe Webb made a game of things, but ultimately threw an interception on the Panthers’ last drive. Overall though, it was a win for both teams, as the Panthers starting defense acquitted itself very well and the Buffalo offense continued to look sharper than it did last year. Additionally, both teams got their rookie wideouts into the act with both Benjamin and Sammy Watkins making an impact on the stat sheet.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 At Jacksonville Jaguars 16
Blake Bortles made his professional debut for Jacksonville while new addition Josh McCown struggled in his debut for Tampa Bay. The Jags started Chad Henne, who is expected to be the guy this season while Bortles develops behind him. Henne wouldn’t bring Jacksonville any points in a game which would feature only two offensive touchdowns. McCown would throw a pick-six, and then fumble the ball away later in his appearance. Mike Glennon would play well for Tampa putting up 140 yards and touchdown. Bucs fans won’t be thrilled with McCown’s performance or their offensive effort overall, but the defense looked really good. For Jacksonville, offense was also not easy to come by. After Henne exited, Blake Bortles made his debut, going 7/11 with 117 yards. He looked good in the pocket, if a little tentative, but that’s why the kid needs to develop. Overall, Jacksonville looks like a team in its second year of a rebuild, that is to say, they look to be improving.
Philadelphia Eagles 28 At Chicago Bears 34
Chicago quarterbacks combined for four touchdown passes, as the Chicago offense picked up right where it left off last year against the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday Night. The Bears posted 491 yards of total offense, 399 of which came through the air. Those are stunning numbers for a preseason outing where most quarterbacks can’t figure out which way to throw the football. Clearly the Bears are a team with much to talk about offensively. Defense is still a work in progress for the Bears though, as they gave up nearly 400 total yards, and while only 76 of those came on the ground, they still surrendered a pair of rushing touchdowns and gave up an average of 4.2 yards per rush. The Bears were greatly aided by Nick Foles, who threw a pair of picks early in the game to put Philly in an early hole. The Eagles won’t be happy about the turnovers or their defensive performance, and they have much to clean up in the coming weeks.
Oakland Raiders 6 At Minnesota Vikings 10
The quarterback battle game turned out to be a bit of a snooze-fest as the Raiders met the Vikings in Minnesota on Friday evening. Matt Cassel was impressive for Minnesota leading a quick opening drive for a touchdown. He finished 5/6 for 62 yards. Teddy Bridgewater was much less impressive for the Vikes, as he looked rather uncomfortable with the pace of the game, and attempted to use his legs too much en route to a 6/13 night. Christian Ponder wasn’t much better, going 3/7 for 39 yards. It’s still Cassel’s competition to lose after the first game. In Oakland, the chants for Derek Carr will likely be growing a touch louder after Matt Schaub struggled at the outset of this game. Carr came in and played pretty well in a very simple offense, going 10/16, despite not getting much help from his receivers, as Greg Little outright dropped a pass, and his interception was a ball that went in and out of the an Oakland fullback’s hands. Matt McGloin got the Raiders on the board with a late 10 yard touchdown run, but they would get no closer. In review, nothing has really changed for either team based on last night’s performances.
New Orleans Saints 26 At St. Louis Rams 24
There was a surprising amount of offense for a game where neither team played its starting quarterback Friday night in St. Louis. The Rams got great quarterback play across the board, as they scored three passing touchdowns, two from Shaun Hill and one from Austin Davis. However, it would be the unit the Rams will be banking on in 2014 that caused the let down last night, their defensive line. The Saints put up 123 rushing yards, with an average of 5.1 yards a rush. Mark Ingram, who played well into the 3rd Quarter for the Saints, averaged over ten yards per carry, putting up 83 yards on 8 rushes. The Rams also struggled against the pass, though they did manage to get two interceptions, with one coming from defensive lineman Chris Long. Saints wide receiver Brandon Cooks was impressive in the second half, raking up 55 yards on 5 catches, and the game winning touchdown. Ultimately, you can’t judge a defense on its preseason performance, but both of these teams would have liked to have seen something more last night.
Cleveland Browns At Detroit Lions 7:30 PM EST NFLN
You will likely be getting enough Johnny Manziel talk from the national media, so I’ll try to focus on other story-lines. Specifically for Cleveland, ignore who the quarterback is and focus on the pace of the offense. The Browns are going to need to be able to push the pace in 2014 if they want to have much success against the stout AFC North defenses. In that division, the teams that win are the teams that can keep their opponents off-balance, and Cleveland has been the worst at doing so over the last few seasons. For Detroit, keep an eye on rookie tight end Eric Ebron. Many said that the tightend class wasn’t particularly deep in 2014, and Ebron made it pretty clear that he thought he was the best. He reminds me a lot of Jermichal Finley in that he can be a dynamic playmaker, but can also struggle with the fundamentals, like catching the ball and blocking in the run game.
Pittsburgh Steelers At New York Giants 7:30 PM EST
The Giants will look to build on a good start to the preseason as they host Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Giants are going to be hoping for another big showing from Andre Williams, who looked great in the opener. Additionally, they will want another strong performance from backup Ryan Nassib and a turnover free performance from Eli Manning. If they can get those things, not give up a huge amount of yardage or points, and stay healthy, it will be a win for the Giants. Pittsburgh is going to want to see how deep they are as a team. This is another team where it will be important to see how the second stringers hold up because that group is going to be the unit that ultimately determines the fate of the Steelers in 2014.
Green Bay Packers At Tennessee Titans 8:00 PM EST
A new coaching staff has arrived in Tennessee hoping to build on an already solid group of players. New head coach Ken Whisenhunt will be tasked with bringing more consistency to Tennessee, especially among the quarterback group. The defense will be looking to build on its improvements from a year ago. As a team with a new coach and a new philosophy, it’s important to get the positive energy going early. This is one of the few times where I will say that winning a preseason game is important, but nothing creates confidence like winning, and for a new staff, confidence can make a big difference once the season starts. Winning is less important for the Packers, who come into this game hoping to stay healthy, and to help decide a few key position battles at Tight End, Wide Receiver, and Safety. Of those positions, Tight End is the murkiest race, with Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, and Richard Rodgers all battling for the top job. This is an important battle for fantasy players, as the Packers’ Tight End tends to be a very productive pick-up. My money right now would be on Bostick to win the job over the incumbent Andrew Quarless.
Houston Texans At Arizona Cardinals 8:30 PM EST
Jadeveon Clowney will make his NFL debut against the Cardinals Saturday night, as Houston begins the first phase of their rebuilding process under rookie Head Coach Bill O’Brian. Ryan Fitzpatrick will also get his chance at the helm of the Texans offense, as they seek to turn the leaf after a disastrous year on that side of the ball. Houston fans will be happy if they see energy and just general improvements. A game without turnovers would be ideal for Houston fans. The Cardinals will see their first action after just missing the postseason in 2014. I have them overtaking San Francisco in the NFC West this season, mainly due to their defense. One thing the Cards will have to do better in 2014 if they hope to overtake the 49ers is run the ball better. The Cards were last in the West in rushing, averaging less than 100 total yards per game. In a division that is so physical, the Cards are going to have to be able to beat teams at their own game. Thus, Cardinals fans can be happy if Arizona can run the ball successfully tonight and throughout the preseason.
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