We inch closer to the start of the season. Real football. There are many that pay real close attention to the preseason and allow it to influence their rankings, their postulations, their hopes, dreams and the very fabric of their lives. Others deride the preseason as an annoyance, something to be dealt with as quickly as possible and to minimise risk to players, plans and the season ahead.
Most of us sit in neither camp. We enjoy being able to see some big names, get enamoured with rookies, worry about injuries and dream big dreams for our preferred teams. It is a way to ramp up for the meaningful events to come, to get emotionally ready for the tumult ahead. For this correspondent, it is a time to try to get as many people excited about the AFC South as possible!
The first week gave us some intriguing insight to the four teams in this division and the second week has proved to be even more exciting.
Remember, these highlights and concerns are presented contextually – yes, we can get excited about certain things but the score doesn’t matter and nor does much past half-time. Once the starters and the back-ups are out, it is essentially a game being played by players that might not make the roster, or, if they do, guys that won’t see meaningful game time come the start of the season.
So with that in mind, LET’S GET EXCITED ABOUT FOOTBALL, FOLKS!
Panthers @ Titans
Tajae Sharpe. It really is all about Sharpe’s stand-out preseason performances. The trade of DGB to the Eagles seems to make more sense as the Titans coaching staff must have felt very confident in the fifth round rookie. We talked about him last week following his encouraging debut and this week he became a national story with some outstanding play with the first-string. He snagged six passes for 68 yards in the game but it was his ability to catch in traffic, his awareness of field position and crisp route running that all jumped out on tape.
Marcus Mariota. Another solid outing for the sophomore QB. He had one silly INT where he didn’t see Bene Benwikere underneath a short route. Other than this aberration, Mariota made some nice throws and poise behind the line. Very much enjoying his progress, as should Titans fans.
Secondary problems. Watching the DBs this week (the starters) was much the same as last week and that was concerning in relation to continued poor play. For both Ted Ginn’s TD and a Fozzy Whittaker play in the second quarter, in particular, the secondary demonstrated poor positioning and an inability to make either tackles or stops. In fact, the second-string secondary (catchy) looked much more ‘football ready’ demonstrating some nice speed to the ball and toughness in the tackle.
One the flip side. The front seven were impressive against the starters for the 15-1 Panthers. The pocket was pressured, the QB harassed and the run game managed (mostly). Encouraging for the front half of Dick LeBeau’s defence.
Running Game. More good news for the ‘exotic smashmouth’ fans. Murray was solid and Henry continued to impress. Watching this, it feels like Henry will become the starter sooner rather than later. Murray may recover some of his burst from 2014 but he is not in the same class as Henry. For this pundit, Henry is going to be a genuine star.
Ravens @ Colts
Andrew Luck! He played after being a healthy scratch in week one of the preseason. In his preseason debut Luck did everything that was asked and brought to bear the right degree of enthusiasm for fans. He went 8 of 8 in his short cameo but it was the manner of the throws that helped to quickly erase memories of the ill-fated 2015 season. He moved the chains with crisp throws and found his primary targets. In an instance of ‘has he learned from the past’, Luck found himself galloping towards the End Zone but took a slide to avoid contact. Perhaps in the regular season with points at stake Luck would have taken his licks to get the TD but he made the smart move here and demonstrated a sense of care and thought that his importance necessitates.
The Colts are unbalanced in terms of quality between the offence and defence and they need the whole WR gang to come to the party. Dante Moncrief had two nice grabs and looked ready to be a major factor this season. Philip Dorsett also had a nice outing and needs to prove that his first round pick was worth it, both for his career and Ryan Grigson’s drafting record…
Saints @ Texans
WOW. If you want something to get hyped about, to over-analyse, to exaggerate, to submit to the sort of hyperbole you are about to read here, then it is Clowney’s performance against the Saints.
Clowney put a…wait for it…Clown(ey) suit on the Saints O-line. He didn’t need finesse, swim moves, swings, anything – he just ran over the RT, LT, RG whoever the heck was in his way.
Early in the encounter, Clowney was used primarily on 3rd down plays but as the encounter progressed he was in on every down and tormented the 1s and 2s of New Orleans. There were a number of highlight plays from Clowney but I would advise those with GamePass to go back and watch this game just for Clowney’s involvement.
Clowney got after Drew Brees by rolling through the LT and RT depending on where he lined up. Andrus Peat is a competent LT made to look like someone just dropped in and left to fend for themselves against, well, against Jadaveon Clowney.
This is particularly important for the Texans given the uncertainty surrounding JJ Watt and his return from injury. Beyond that it is downright scary to think what the Texans might do on defence with the two of them together. They could eclipse the outstanding Bronco’s duo Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware as the league’s most feared pass-rush duo.
Buccaneers @ Jags
Blake Bortles looks smoooooooth. That’s the only way I can put it. Bortles looked better this week than last and in this small sample size, seemed to answer questions about his footwork and decision-making. Naturally, this is not to say these problems of disappeared but on Sunday night, he showed that the offseason work has sunk it, whether it lasts in the blazing inferno of competitive games remains to be seen.
Allen Robinson does not agree with convention. Many folks around the game have suggested that Allen Robinson is a prime regression candidate. That is, though he is undoubtedly talented and an upper echelon WR, his numbers will come down as he regresses to the mean rather than maintaining the high numbers posted last year. So far Robinson has gone out of his way to make plays to counter this belief. He has looked like a top 5 WR so far in the preseason. His catches in this game were of the highest degree of difficulty and he is sending a signal of intent to his teammates.
Jalen Ramsey. Boy, oh, boy does Ramsey look good. His ballhawk skills were in evidence here as he started the game like he was trying to make up for missing the earlier part of training camp. There is an early play where Ramsey tracks the ball and runs through a blocker to reach and bring down Charles Sims that was a joy to watch.
A couple of things to be concerned about for the Jags. The starters committed a lot of penalties and it had an impact on the flow of their possessions. Now is the time to get this sort of stuff out of the system but discipline is crucial and they will need to ensure it’s just preseason glitches. Also, the offence didn’t score a point once the starters withdrew. It’s not a massive concern but noteworthy the drop-off on offence. The Jags seem stocked on D but any potential injuries or mishaps on offence could be costly.
A lot of positives to come out of the second week of the preseason for our gallant AFC South teams.
Week three is the big one where we see the starters in for a full half at least and something closer to 100% from teams in terms of competitiveness. It will be a good glimpse of what we will see on opening day.
Later this week we will indulge our imaginations and postulate which players would scoop the major awards if the AFC South were the most dominant division in the NFL. Following that we will recap week three of the preseason.
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