The Schein Nine  

 

Brian Hoyer, Eli Manning take center stage in preseason Week 3

They say Week 3 of the NFL preseason is the dress rehearsal for the regular season. Well, at this point, some teams are in desperate need of more time.

Here are nine unresolved issues/worries that could use some clarity:

1) Is Brian Hoyer a legitimate starting quarterback?

OK, no need to beat around the bush. I'm just going to come right out and say it: The Cleveland Browns made the wrong choice.

Yes, on Wednesday morning, the team announced Hoyer will begin the season as its starting quarterback.

The problem with Brian Hoyer is that he's Brian Hoyer. He's a journeyman backup. Oh, he's a great guy, a smart guy. He's helpful in meetings and practice. You want him to marry your sister. You don't want him as your starting quarterback.

Obviously, Johnny Manziel gets all of the attention. And flipping the bird to the Washington Redskins' bench on "Monday Night Football" was another display of troubling immaturity. Manziel hasn't played well in the preseason. There's no debating that.

But neither has Hoyer.

This is what gets lost in all the Johnny drama: The simple fact that Hoyer just isn't a viable No. 1 in this league.

What do you think the reaction is in Pittsburgh today? The Steelers must be thrilled that they'll be facing Hoyer instead of Manziel in Week 1. Yes, I know Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's track record against rookie quarterbacks, but let's not pretend Hoyer is a seasoned vet here -- the guy's started a grand total of four NFL games. Meanwhile, Johnny Football, though a neophyte, is a perfect fit in Browns coordinator Kyle Shanahan's offense. And he has the skill set and swagger needed -- the skill set and swagger that Cleveland has lacked at the quarterback position since the Browns came back into the league in 1999 -- to compete on the road in the AFC North.

Cleveland fans like Hoyer. The local media swoons. I don't get it. I don't see it.

Maybe Hoyer will show it to me against the St. Louis Rams on Saturday night. I'll certainly be tuning in to this dress rehearsal. But I'm skeptical. Very skeptical.

2) The New York Giants have a problem on offense.

You never overreact to the preseason, but it feels like Big Blue might never gain a first down in 2014. Or something like that.

Eli Manning and the Giants are struggling with the forward pass. The 11th-year pro, coming off of his worst season since his rookie campaign, looks hopeless in new coordinator Ben McAdoo's offense. While I initially loved the appointment of McAdoo -- who was plucked from the Mike McCarthy coaching tree -- right now, he looks like a coach who has never called a play.

The Giants' offensive line looks overmatched. They don't have an NFL-caliber tight end. And then there's the first-round pick ...

A lingering hamstring injury has become a nightmare for receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who has barely practiced at all. This is a huge setback in terms of learning the offense and gaining chemistry with Eli. He had planned to make his Giants debut in Friday night's game against the Jets, but after retweaking his hamstring in Monday's practice, he's been ruled out yet again. It's a disastrous start to his career. The Giants drafted Beckham to hit home runs this year, eschewing potential defensive stars with the No. 12 overall pick. Now you have to wonder if he'll be a factor at all in the first half of the season.

Even before seeing the Giants' offense struggle mightily in the first two preseason games, I thought this team could be in for a long season. Is it too much to ask for Eli and Co. to look mildly respectable this weekend?

3) The New York Jets have a problem on defense.

Cornerback has been a sore spot for Gang Green this offseason. Dee Milliner, the No. 9 overall pick in 2013, is now dealing with a high ankle sprain. The position group was already paper thin, so this is a major concern. Newcomer Dimitri Patterson, who's ticketed to start opposite Milliner, has had a brutal summer. And his struggles rekindle questions about general manager John Idzik's approach to the position this offseason. The Jets cut Antonio Cromartie, then failed to snag a capable replacement in free agency like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Vontae Davis or Alterraun Verner.

The Jets kick off their regular-season schedule against the Raiders -- then face the following six quarterbacks:

- Aaron Rodgers
- Jay Cutler
- Matthew Stafford
- Philip Rivers
- Peyton Manning
- Tom Brady

Think it'd be nice to have some viable cornerback play against that group of signal-callers?

You'd certainly like to see Patterson look the part against a suspect Giants offense this weekend.

4) The No. 1 overall pick from the 2013 NFL Draft is still struggling.

In last year's underwhelming draft class, Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Fisher was the top pick by default. And with Branden Albert's offseason relocation from K.C. to Miami, Fisher has shifted over to Alex Smith's blind side. Unfortunately, he's hardly resembled a steady lineman in the preseason.

The Chiefs need to see something Saturday night against the Minnesota Vikings. This offense -- and this team -- will regress quickly if it doesn't click for Fisher.

5) Can the Atlanta Falcons protect Matt Ryan?

Left tackle Sam Baker is done for the year. It's a crushing blow.

Sure, the Falcons have the luxury of moving Jake Matthews, the No. 6 overall pick in May, from right tackle to left tackle. But it compromises the overall depth and quality in an area of weakness last year. Not to mention, playing right tackle was the perfect way for Matthews to get acclimated to NFL life in Year 1.

How will this unit perform against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday?

6) Can the Tampa Bay Buccaneers protect Josh McCown?

I hit on the Bucs' O-line questions in a column last week, detailing how McCown didn't even know who'd be starting at offensive guard. Lovie Smith had better get some clarity against the Buffalo Bills on Saturday.

McCown was under constant duress in the preseason opener vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars. Against the Miami Dolphins last week, the Bucs obviously made a concerted effort to get the ball out of McCown's hands ASAP. But the quarterback is going to need some time to pass if Tampa Bay wants to take full advantage of its twin towers on the perimeter (veteran receiver Vincent Jackson and first-round pick Mike Evans).

7) Suddenly, questions abound on the Arizona Cardinals' defense.

I've been talking up the Cards for quite some time, mainly because of their suffocating defense, but how much more can this unit take? With stud linebacker Daryl Washington already suspended for the year, 'Zona took another huge hit on Monday when dominant defensive lineman Darnell Dockett suffered a torn ACL in practice. These cats are irreplaceable.

On the flip side, Tyrann Mathieu was activated from the PUP list on Tuesday. The depleted Cards need a jolt early in the season from the Honey Badger.

The defense as a whole will be tested by the Cincinnati Bengals' offense on Sunday Night Football.

8) Who's going to back up Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco?

If Blaine Gabbert is the answer, I'd love to know the question.

The former No. 10 overall pick cannot play. Based on what we've seen from him so far, Gabbert shouldn't be in the league.

With the dual-threat Kaepernick liable to take some hits outside (and inside) the pocket, the backup QB spot is crucial in San Francisco. The 49ers need to find someone else.

9) The Rob Gronkowski health watch is in effect (as usual).

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Well, this doesn't particularly apply to the Patriots' dress rehearsal against the Carolina Panthers, as Gronk almost certainly won't be taking part in it. This is more of a long-view issue to keep tabs on during the remainder of the preseason.

The Patriots' star tight end, who's working back from a torn ACL, participated in 11-on-11 drills on Monday. And it's kind of a big deal. Gronk, when healthy, is unstoppable. Gronk, when healthy, puts Tom Brady and the Patriots in the mix for the Super Bowl.

Gronkowski told the media that his goal this year is simply to play 16 games. That's something he hasn't done since 2011 -- when he caught 90 balls for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. Something tells me this is a weapon the Pats' offense could use in 2014.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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