Welcome to Teddy’s unique look at the NFL. During August, Teddy records every game, then watches every first half on Sunday, typing furiously on his laptop while giving you the key info that the box scores and game recaps simply don’t have. This week: AFC Tidbits from the first two weeks of the preseason.
Boy, this team looks impressive; a potential Super Bowl sleeper in a conference that has no clear No. 3 behind Denver and New England to start the season. This was a Top 10 defense last year and looks even better this year, positively loaded with the addition of Super Bowl winner James Harrison from Pittsburgh. Harrison was run blitzing and making plays in the backfield, now he’s the inside linebacker in a 4-3 D, a new position. Lots of blitzing, worth noting in preseason!
The position battles here aren’t huge ones – at center where Kyle Cook is the favorite to win and for the second and third receiver after AJ Green. No ‘three-and-outs while QB Andy Dalton was on the field; he did a great job with audibles out of bad situational play calls
On the first play from scrimmage, LB Jerry Hughes got a big sack on Ponder. Manny Lawson blew up the line of scrimmage, creating another sack on the third drive. Stephon Gilmore looked great as their lockdown No. 1 corner. These are legitimate positive signs for a defense that is loaded with question marks.
EJ Manuel got hurt; particularly bad news because Kevin Kolb (for the umpteenth time) didn’t look like an NFL starting quarterback. Kolb has won the starting job coming out of camp in each of the last three years (twice in Arizona, once in Philly), but injuries have forced him out of the starting job by October all three times. He looked lost here, holding the ball too long and repeatedly throwing into coverage.
Kolb guided a three-and-out on his first drive, a pick on the second drive, and what should have been a pick six (dropped by the defender, it won’t show up in any box score) on the third drive. Two rookies starting at WR didn’t help the passing game much.
I’m not sure how physical the Broncos are. They feel like more of a finesse squad. Seattle absolutely punched them in the mouth and the Broncos did not respond well. The first and second string offenses produced only 3 points last week (their only TD came on a fumble return) and just a single score this week as well (their field goal came on a three-and-out, following a 73 yard Trinton Holliday punt return).
Completely rebuilt defense – more than half the starters are new – and there are growing pains. The pass rush wasn’t there at all, and the secondary lost coverage without pressure on the QB. But in the red zone, just like last year, they stiffened u, forcing field goal attempts, not allowing touchdowns. Andrew Luck continues to make dangerous throws into tight windows; a weakness for him last year. His accuracy is tremendous; his receivers are not.
Reggie Wayne is old, TY Hilton is best suited for the slot and both Darius Heyward Bey and TE Coby Fleener have not lived up to expectations. Luck was hit more than any QB in the league last year, and faced pressure here – this offense line got abused by the Giants front four. Note that Luck gets credit for a TD on a pass that should have been an interception, but Aaron Ross tipped it instead of catching it and Wayne made a great play on the ball.
This offensive line is getting blown off the line of scrimmage, really outplayed. Frankly, the Dolphins were overpowered on numerous passing downs. That could be a harbinger of things to come, even though injuries have left this unit shorthanded here in August. The defensive line was getting gashed as well – other than a single sack from Cameron Wake. There weren’t many bright spots and I was not impressed with this secondary – lots of open receivers downfield.
QB Ryan Tannehill did a nice job avoiding some pressure and making plays with his feet. Mike Wallace made a catch downfield by the sideline that nobody on this team could have made last year, a very positive sign. Wallace’s TD catch on a bullet throw from Tannehill was another thing of beauty.
QB Blaine Gabbert is 5-19 as an NFL starter and he’s coming off offseason surgery. RB Maurice Jones-Drew is coming off injury and surgery. Top WR Justin Blackmon is suspended for the first four games. And they’re running no-huddle trying to pick up the pace! I’d be slowing it down if I was Gus Bradley, not picking up the tempo.
Then again, this defense doesn’t look like they’re going to be stopping anybody consistently. No pass rush at all, and gashed by the Jets second tier running attack. On offense, the Jags put together three long first half drives with Gabbert behind center, but settled for FG’s twice. Lots of penalties: 8 for 63 yards through the first 16 minutes of the game.
New York Jets
Boy, this team looks awful. Any defense getting gashed by Jacksonville is not a good sign. And I mean gashed – no pass rush, no ability to stop the run, open receivers running downfield, lots of blown assignments, lots of missed tackles. If this D is supposed to be the strength of the team – and it is – the Jets are in trouble! There’s nary a playmaker to be found on either side of the football.
Mark Sanchez hasn’t changed his stripes – he’s fine, fine, fine then awful, making that one horrific throw. Especially in the red zone, you hold your breath every time as a Jets bettor. Sanchez missed a wide open WR in the end zone, scrambled and got tackled instead. He threw a bad red zone pick.
Sanchez held the ball too long – unacceptable clock management – blowing the Jets scoring chance singlehandedly right before halftime. I do expect him to win the job, because Geno Smith clearly isn’t ready and Ryan is coaching for his job this year.
Talk about stability – this team has had three head coaches in the last 44 years. But the Steelers have made major changes this year, starting with their new zone blocking scheme, taught by new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell. All five starting linemen were high draft choices, age 27 or younger, with little or no quality depth behind them. The unit has the potential to make or break the team.
The OL had mixed results against the Giants. Holding penalties and sacks killed early drives and they allowed a punt to be blocked. But the one drive with LaRod Stephens Howling running the ball behind that zone blocking scheme was outstanding; positive yardage on nearly every play. Expect more short, controlled passes in Todd Haley’s offense, less downfield throws, although Antonio Brown looks capable of filling Mike Wallace’s big shoes as a playmaking No. 1 receiver.
Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at [email protected]