They say week 3 of the preseason is the most important game of the 4. Teams practice like it's a real game, go into it like it's a real game, and charge ticket prices like it's a real game. Of course it's not a real game and coaches and players will go out of their way to minimize any accomplishments. But it does give us our best look at how teams are doing in certain areas, especially since week 4 is nothing but a glorified scrimmage that's about as usefull as an umbrella during hurricane Irene. So here are some of the things I noticed in week 3 of the preseason.
Lions look legit
Ok, let's get all the caveats out of the way. This was just a preseason game. The Lions went into this game as if it was the Super Bowl while the Patriots went into this game as if it was a week 3 preseason game against the Lions. The Patriots also might have been worried that they might not have a home to go home to after the game thanks to Irene. So with all the obligatory disclaimers done, let me just say the Lions completely destroyed the Patriots in just about every facet of the game.
Matthew Stafford had enough time to enjoy a nice cup of tea with biscuits before every throw while Tom Brady would barely finish his 3/5/7 step drop before Ndamukong Suh or one of the Lions other defensive lineman was plowing into him. And this wasn't simply a case of the Lions having a better game plan than the Patriots. In almost every position battle the Lions player outplayed the Patriots player. Bill Belichick summed it up best when he said after the game, "We didn't do anything very well. We didn't throw it, didn't catch it, didn't block, didn't tackle, didn't cover, didn't return. It's a long list. Didn't coach." Interesting, but what I want to know is if they kicked the ball well.
Again, this was just a preseason game and something similar happened last year in the Patriots 3rd preseason game when they lost to the Rams before finishing the year with a 14-2 record. And who could forget how the Lions went undefeated in the preseason of 2008 before going 0-16 during the season. But the Lions are definitely starting to look like they may be the team to challenge the Packers in the NFC North assuming Stafford can stay healthy for once. Yes, the world has definitely been turned on it's head. First a hurricane is hitting the U.S. and it's not in Florida and the Lions might actually have a good team.
More week 3 observations after the jump...
Eagles bounce back
Last week the Eagles looked bad. I mean really bad. Their starters looked bad. Their backups looked bad. They looked bad on offense. They looked bad on defense. In just about every aspect of the game they looked bad. This week, however, the Eagles looked like the team many predicted they'd be. In the immortal words of Denis Green, "They are who we thought they were!" It's almost like last week they were playing maybe the best defense in the NFL and this week they were playing a team that's only won 14 games over their last three seasons. Oh, that's right. That is what happened. Oh what a difference playing the Browns make.
Not that Michael Vick was amazing. He was actually just OK, completing 10 of 18 throws for 98 yards and no touchdowns, while also running for an 8 yard touchdown. All his completions were underneath and he never really stretched the field at all. But he didn't need to do a whole lot considering how the Eagles defense was playing. They completely shut down the Browns first team offense and didn't allow any points until the 4th quarter when most of the guys playing are more likely to make a UFL team than an NFL one.
Perhaps one of the reasons for Vick's underwhelming numbers was because the Eagles were running a very plain offensive scheme. That actually happens a lot in preseason, especially with an experienced team like the Eagles who've had the same head coach through three different presidential administrations. It's also the proverbial, "taking what the defense gives you."
"You have to take what the defense gives you," said Vick after the game. Wait, that's what I just said. "If they play 30 yards off, you throw underneath. We're not trying to go deep."
It's still just preseason, and there's still two more weeks until they start playing football for real, but for one week at least the Eagles looked like they team we thought they were.
Is Cam the man in Carolina?
The Panthers went into this week's preseason game like it was a regular season game. Cam Newton got all the first team reps and this was his chance to show why he deserves to be the starting quarterback. So was it "mission accomplished" for Newton? Kind of, I guess. He continued to have accuracy problems completing only 6 of his 19 passes for 75 yards, and in 3 preseason games he's barely completing over 40% of his throws. He also has yet to throw his first touchdown pass. But what he has done well is not make any stupid mistakes. He's not trying to force the ball where it won't fit and hasn't thrown any interceptions. He also has one really big thing going for him. He's not Jimmy Clausen.
Clausen's numbers have been a little better this preseason. He's completed 58.6% of his passes and is averaging 5.97 yards per pass attempt compared to only 5.29 for Newton. He's thrown a touchdown but also has an interception. So if Clausen's numbers are a little better than Newton's, why not go with Clausen? Because Newton can also make things happen with his feat. Four times Newton scrambled from a broken pocket for 49 yards, including a nifty 16 yard touchdown run on the Panthers first drive of the game. Considering the porous nature of the Panthers offensive line, having a mobile quarterback is a huge plus.
Newton will also occasionally do things, such as the 16 yard touchdown scramble, that will make the highlight reel as a top play. Clausen hasn't had any highlight reel moments since he was a Senior in high school. Clausen just isn't going to get any Panthers fans excited. When fans do think of Clausen they usually think, "meh". Newton at least will tantalize them by showing flashes of what he may one day become. And since he isn't doing anything boneheaded while he's out there, it seems like the job is his. Because, at this point, that's all it takes to become the Panthers starting quarterback, simply not doing anything incredibly boneheaded.
Kevin Kolb finally does something
In his first two preseason games with the Cardinals not only had Kolb not thrown a touchdown pass, he had yet to even lead the Cardinals offense in a touchdown drive. That all changed with one 80 yard bomb to Larry Fitzgerald. In a little over a half of play Kolb completed 11 of 20 passes for 205 yards with no interceptions, while helping the Cardinals to a 24-20 lead over the Chargers before leaving midway through the 3rd.
"I think you can see whenever we execute and we don't kill ourselves how many times we can put drives together and go put it in the endzone," Kolb said after the game. Of course, what he said is a bit like a defender saying, "I think you can see whenever we make tackles, don't allow them to catch the ball, and don't kill ourselves how many times we can force them to punt." Thank you captain obvious.
Seahawks offensive line looks bad
The Broncos Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller did their best Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis impersonations while the Seahawks Tarvaris Jackson did his best impersonationof a punching bag. In all, Jackson was sacked 5 times in addition to being repeatedly knocked to the ground. "It's been a while since I've seen a pass rush like that, period," cornerback Champ Bailey said afterwards.
Against the Broncos first team defense, the Seahawks managed only 53 yards of offense in 30 plays. Only once the Broncos put their second team defense on the field did Jackson lead the offense on a touchdown drive at the beginning of the 4th. It was also the first time the Seahawks first team offense scored a touchdown this preseason. "We got some points on the board, so that was a good thing to show the guys we can do it," Jackson said. Now if they can just play against the second string defense of a team that finished with only 3 wins last year for every game, they'll be set.
The Raiders new black hole
Nnamdi Asomugha is out and rookie DeMarcus Van Dyke is in, and that's great news for every quarterback who gets to play the Raiders this year. Drew Brees threw at will against the Raiders secondary, picking on Van Dyke in particular, throwing for 189 yards in the Saints first three drives before leaving in the 2nd. At one point it looked like the Raiders were never going to be able to stop Brees but on their third drive they finally stiffened once the Saints drove to the Raiders 15 yard line and had to settle for a field goal instead.
Even once Brees left the game the Saints just kept on marching down the field. Get it? Marching? By the end of the game the Saints had racked up 514 yards on offense including 388 through the air. "Obviously on that side of the ball we have some work to do," Raiders head coach Hue Jackson said. "As I said a week ago, thank gosh this is not the regular season." Yes, thank gosh. The Raiders did look a lot better offensively than they did last week against the 49ers but every quarterback who has the Raiders on their schedule has to feel like that day is Christmas.