Monday night's contest between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots is all that's left in Week 2 of the 2012 preseason. Most teams played their starters well into the second quarter during this past weekend's games after limiting them to brief appearances in Week 1.
As I mentioned last Monday, there is no reason to get too high or too low during the preseason, but there are always a few things for teams to be encouraged or a little concerned about during this time of year. I've come up with five signs of trouble and five positive takeaways from the second week of preseason action.
Robert Griffin III just couldn't find a comfort zone against the fast and physical defense of the Chicago Bears. The Washington Redskins' electric rookie quarterback completed five of eight passes for 49 yards, taking three sacks and losing a fumble. RG3 was flustered by Chicago blitzes, and the Bears' front four was able to finish the job.
The Bears have given the Philadelphia Eagles' Michael Vick similar trouble because of their size and speed up front. There is no reason to be too alarmed if you're a Redskins fan; in fact, this will actually be a great teaching tape for both Griffin and the Redskins offense.
2) The Jets' offensive line is a major cause for concern.
Prior to Saturday night, 99 percent of the attention paid to the New York Jets focused solely on their quarterback situation. After watching their game against the New York Giants, it became painfully obvious that it's not going to matter who is playing quarterback unless the Jets find a way to shore up the offensive line.
Neither Mark Sanchez nor Tim Tebow had enough time to effectively operate the Gang Green offense. The Giants annihilated the Jets' offensive line, piling up seven sacks. Through the first two preseason games, the Jets have allowed an embarrassing total of 12 sacks.
Right tackle Wayne Hunter looked completely overmatched against the talented edge rushers of the Giants. He took the brunt of the criticism, but he wasn't the only Jets blocker having trouble. The entire group must play much better for this offense to be even mildly productive.
3) San Diego suffered a costly injury on offense for the second consecutive week.
Not again! That had to be the prevailing sentiment along the San Diego Chargers' sideline in the third quarter of their preseason contest against the Dallas Cowboys. After hauling in a beautiful 18-yard touchdown catch, second-year receiver Vincent Brown suffered a broken left ankle while being tackled in the end zone. He has already undergone surgery and is expected to miss the next eight weeks (at least).
This is the second straight week that the Chargers have been hit with an injury to a key contributor on offense. Starting running back Ryan Mathews suffered a broken collarbone on his very first carry of the preseason.
Brown might not be a household name, but the Chargers are relying on him to be a major asset in the passing game this season, especially after the loss of Vincent Jackson to free agency. Brown was arguably their top receiver during training camp and the first two preseason games. Fortunately for San Diego, both Brown and Mathews should be able to return to action at some point during the first half of the 2012 season.
4) The Titans' newest starting QB didn't look good on Friday.
After a solid performance in Tennessee's preseason opener, Locker did not perform well against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The second-year quarterback reverted to some of the bad habits he formed while playing collegiately at the University of Washington. Locker failed to set his feet, struggled with accuracy and made some poor decisions. He completed just four of 11 passes for 21 yards and one interception. He did scramble for 24 yards on two carries, but he looked very tightly wound throughout his time on the field. Once Matt Hasselbeck entered the game in relief of Locker, there was a noticeable difference in poise behind center.
Still, despite the shaky outing, Locker has been named the Titans' starting quarterback for the regular-season opener against the New England Patriots, according to NFL Network's Michael Lombardi. Apparently, the Tennessee brass isn't too concerned about one bad performance. And obviously, the Titans' long-term plan revolves around the 24-year-old Locker, not the 36-year-old Hasselbeck.
5) Tampa Bay's offense has a long way to go before it's ready for the regular season.
» Total yards: 81
» Sacks allowed: 4
» Net yards passing: Minus-1
You read that right. They actually had negative passing yards.
Josh Freeman did toss a touchdown pass, but he only completed four of his 10 throws for 21 yards. While watching the game, I felt that Freeman had a few opportunities to use his legs to pick up easy yardage, but he looked very hesitant.
One positive development for the Bucs' offense is that rookie running back Doug Martin looked like a Ray Rice clone in this contest. His actual production wasn't eye-opening, but he put together several impressive runs.
1) The defenses in Houston and San Francisco remain dominant.
Saturday night's showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans didn't have the feel of a preseason game. Both teams played with tremendous energy and effort throughout the contest. There were a handful of highlight-worthy plays on offense, but the defenses of both teams made the boldest statements. Both offenses were held to fewer than 300 total yards and the game only produced one offensive touchdown, a nine-yard scoring pass from Houston's Matt Schaub to Lestar Jean.
The Texans' defense repeatedly hit Niners quarterback Alex Smith, while San Francisco's defense consistently swarmed to the football and delivered physical tackle after physical tackle. Both of these teams are fully capable of advancing to the Super Bowl, as long as their defenses continue to play at this elite level.
2) There is no debating the NFL's top quarterback-receiver combination.
The NFL is filled with dangerous quarterback-receiver combinations. Several of them put on exciting displays over this past weekend. The New York Giants' Eli Manning and Victor Cruz were locked in against the Jets. The Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton and A.J. Green hooked up for a beautiful deep touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons. The Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall connection recommenced in impressive fashion during the Bears' win over the Redskins.
While those combinations are difficult to defend, they don't compare to the Detroit Lions' deadly duo of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. After a sluggish start, these two took over the game against the Baltimore Ravens on Friday night. In less than a half of football, Johnson caught five Stafford passes for 111 yards and one acrobatic touchdown over Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith.
Stafford and Johnson hooked up for 16 touchdowns in 2011 and it's not unreasonable to expect that number to climb in 2012. In fact, I would be surprised if it didn't.
In June, I wrote about the importance of the pass rush. Four of the past five Super Bowl winners have finished the regular season ranked in the top three in sacks. With that in mind, I've made a point to pay special attention to the pass rush during the preseason. Over this past weekend, these three defensive lines jumped off the screen with their ability to get after opposing quarterbacks.
The Giants' defensive line was the best of the bunch, completely overwhelming the Jets' O-line. New York's defensive line produced six of the team's seven sacks and didn't give Jets quarterbacks any chance to get comfortable in the pocket.
The Oakland Raiders might have the most underrated defensive line in the NFL. Against the Arizona Cardinals, the D-line racked up three of the team's four sacks while also collecting a safety, courtesy of defensive lineman Tommy Kelly. The interior combination of Kelly and Richard Seymour might be the best in the entire league.
As mentioned above, the Bears' defensive line consistently harassed RG3 during their win over the Redskins. Julius Peppers gets all of the attention, but Israel Idonije has been a solid player for a long time. On one play, Idonije ran down a stumbling Griffin, secured the sack and forced a fumble. He finished the game with 2.5 sacks.
4) Blaine Gabbert is a much more comfortable and confident quarterback in 2012.
Gabbert took a lot of criticism for his performance as a rookie last season. Several analysts, including myself, questioned his willingness to stand tall and keep his eyes downfield while being pressured. To his credit, I haven't seen any such hesitancy in his play this preseason.
Gabbert was excellent in the Jacksonville Jaguars' win over the New Orleans Saints on Friday night. He made quick decisions and threw the ball with both velocity and accuracy. He finished 13-for-16 for 112 yards and two touchdowns. He has quickly found a comfort level with Justin Blackmon; the two hooked up for a 16-yard score in the first quarter.
5) The Browns finally have something to smile about.
It has been a rough few weeks for the Cleveland Browns. The excitement generated from their recent change in ownership was quickly overshadowed by an injury to their prized rookie runner, Trent Richardson, and a possible suspension for talented young cornerback Joe Haden. Add in the fact that rookie starting quarterback Brandon Weeden didn't exactly light the world on fire during his preseason debut against the Lions, and many Browns fans were already anticipating the worst for the 2012 season.
While it's only the preseason, the Browns were desperate for something good. That is just what they got this past weekend. Cleveland throttled the Green Bay Packers, 35-10, behind a solid performance from Weeden and backup running back Montario Hardesty. Weeden completed 12 of 20 passes for 118 yards, while Hardesty pounded out 45 yards on 12 carries, including a one-yard touchdown plunge.
The defense allowed an early Aaron Rodgers-to-Jordy Nelson touchdown pass, but the unit recovered nicely, holding the Packers to a field goal the rest of the way. Cleveland's young secondary provided excellent coverage for the majority of the evening and even produced a touchdown on David Sims' 38-yard interception return of an errant Graham Harrell pass.
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.