The second weekend of preseason football isn't necessarily just a dress rehearsal. The game plans crafted by coaches aren't as comprehensive as the ones used during the regular season, but they provide us with a glimpse at which teams and players have the goods to get it done.
Here's what I learned from watching Sunday's games:
» Philip Rivers is on top of his game. The three-time Pro Bowl selection has picked up where he left off a season ago as the league's leading passer. Rivers connected on 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards with a touchdown against the Cowboys. He showed outstanding poise and awareness in the pocket, and seemed unfazed by Dallas' pressure. His keen understanding of blitz and coverage resulted in big plays due to his ability to hit the hot receiver in open windows. Rivers also distributed the ball to five different receivers on a variety of throws, which prevented the Cowboys from condensing the field with tight coverage. With Rivers in a good rhythm, the Chargers scored 10 points on three possessions and continued to exhibit their trademark explosiveness when he is at the helm.
» The Cowboys' running game is in much better shape behind Felix Jones and a rebuilt offensive line. Jones was terrific against the Chargers on the way to tallying 56 rushing yards on only seven attempts. His combination of speed, burst and agility allows him to slip through small creases between the tackles despite the presence of defenders in the hole. Jones flashed surprising power on contact, and was able to run through arm tackles that typically result in negative runs. While Jones is to be commended, the Cowboys' offensive line is much improved over last year's version. The addition of several young players -- Tyron Smith, Bill Nagy and David Arkin -- has added size, strength and athleticism to a line that failed to consistently create a push at the point of attack a season ago. Though their inexperience will lead to some miscues, there is no doubt that the infusion of talent to the Cowboys' offensive line will lead to better production in the running game.
» Rob Ryan will have to scale back his "boom or bust" blitz tactics. The Cowboys' defensive coordinator wants to get after the passer with aggressive rush schemes, but he doesn't have cover corners in place to hold up under that approach. The team's top corners, Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman, are out nursing injuries and their replacements struggle in isolated matchups. In addition, they repeatedly made mental mistakes that allowed receivers to run freely through zones. Against the Chargers, Rivers repeatedly found open receivers against the blitz-heavy approach and his ability to punish the Cowboys for bringing pressure forced Ryan to alter his tactics early in the game. The return of Jenkins and Newman should help the Cowboys fare better with the high-pressure schemes, but Ryan might be forced to reduce his blitz calls with the rest of the secondary unable to effectively hold up their end of the bargain in coverage.
» Andy Dalton is not ready to be a starter. It's still early in the preseason, but the Bengals rookie looks overwhelmed as a starting quarterback. He is coming off his second straight poor performance and he doesn't look prepared to face the speed of pro defenders nor the complex coverage thrown at him by NFL defensive coordinators. Dalton connected on only 8 of 19 pass attempts for 86 yards with two interceptions. Although he didn't look hesitant or indecisive in the pocket, he struggled with his accuracy and ball placement against tight coverage. His lack of precision resulted in tipped passes or overthrows, which were easily picked off by Jets defenders. While he led the Bengals to a score against the Jets regulars, his inability to move the offense effectively is an issue that might prompt Marvin Lewis to turn to Bruce Gradkowski as the starter when the regular season opens.
» Plaxico Burress is still rounding back into shape, but he will be a difference maker for the Jets. The 10th-year pro provided a glimpse of the playmaking skills he brings to the table during his impressive debut against the Bengals. Burress finished the night with three receptions for 66 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown on an acrobatic catch in the corner of the end zone. Although his route running was a little ragged, he flashed outstanding ball skills and athleticism in his first outing after a two-year layoff. His combination of size, strength and skill still makes him a difficult guard on the perimeter, and Mark Sanchez showed a willingness to throw the ball up to him in contested situations. While he must continue to refine the rough parts of his game, Burress displayed the kind of big-play potential the Jets envisioned when they added him to the roster early in training camp.
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