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What we learned: Week 2 winners and losers


Peyton Manning and Adam Gase can start putting the champagne on ice. The architects of the highest-scoring offense in NFL history should feel a lot more secure about their records lasting another season after the second week of the preseason.

There figured to be three challengers to the 2013 Denver Broncos' throne heading into this season: Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. The first two received devastating blows early in Sunday's preseason game between the Packers and the Steelers.

Every game, all season

No team is better suited than Green Bay to survive the loss of a top 10 receiver like Jordy Nelson. They have depth throughout the offense, especially at wide receiver. But there is only one Jordy Nelson, and Aaron Rodgers just lost his best teammate to a torn ACL.

The Steelers are used to playing without Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey by now. He missed playoff games in 2010 and 2011, and only played one game in the 2013 season. It's no coincidence, though, that Pouncey was around last year while Ben Roethlisberger was setting career highs. Perhaps Pouncey can return from his broken ankle late in the season. In the meantime, Pittsburgh's enviable offensive line continuity took a big hit.

The Colts avoided anything too calamitous, so Manning can't breathe easy just yet. Plus he's got his own issues to deal with in Denver. More on that below as we look at the winners and losers of Week 2 of the preseason:

Moving Up

Rex Ryan insanity: Tyrod Taylor is the guy Rex Ryan wants. He's the mobile quarterback that Rex hates gameplanning against. Luckily for Rex, Taylor has excelled in both preseason performances while EJ Manuel and Matt Cassel haven't proven effective in practice. It would be too easy to just name Taylor the starter, right?

Instead, Rex is going to make it as difficult as possible for any quarterback to gain any rhythm. It looks like the team's plan this week is to rotate Taylor, Cassel, and Manuel in with the first team offense in practice and the third preseason game. That way Buffalo's Week 1 opponent Indianapolis will have no idea which quarterback will be ill prepared for the opener.

Jameis Winston: Through two preseason starts, Winston has been anything but boring. He's instantly turned one of the most drab NFL teams into one of the most fascinating. His Monday night outing against Cincinnati showed off Winston's most promising trait, and the one that will get him in trouble as a rookie. He's going to be aggressive to a fault.

Matt Jones: Watching players like Jones is what the preseason is all about. The level of competition is irrelevant. Watching a player Jones' size move and cut with that much explosion is eye-opening. Jones runs hard and could easily cut into Alfred Morris' playing time, if he doesn't pass him. His skill set reminds us of a smaller Jonathan Stewart.

Leonard Williams: It's been a dark month for the Jets. Williams is here to provide some preseason light. Five tackles, three tackles for loss, 3 QB hits, and 1.5 sacks is about as monstrous a preseason outing as you'll ever see.

Carson Palmer: Not only is Palmer healthy, but his arm looks extremely live. He had a lot of zip on his passes Saturday, including a 57-yard bomb to rookie J.J. Nelson. Oh yeah: The Cardinals found another bite-sized receiver that could be a matchup nightmare and will get some reps with the Cardinals first team. Throw in David Johnson's nice first outing, and Palmer has more weapons than any time since Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were roaming the Earth.

Ingrams: C.J. Spiller's absence in the preseason has allowed Saints running back Mark Ingram to stretch his skills as a receiver. He has reportedly looked like a natural in practice, and showed off his ability on a beautiful wheel route against the Patriots. With Khiry Robinson also looking great on passing downs while bouncing off defenders, New Orleans coach Sean Payton has the luxury to work Spiller back into the mix slowly whenever he gets healthy.

Chargers pass rusher Melvin Ingram, taken one year after Mark in the first round, is finally looking ready to realize all of his potential. He has looked far more explosive coming off the edge in the preseason after losing 20 pounds. San Diego desperately needs a pass rusher and Ingram has been the talk of Chargers camp.

Titans quarterbacks: Marcus Mariota has looked as advertised in the preseason, looking very calm in the pocket. He's accurate and looks like a workmanlike veteran, not unlike Teddy Bridgewater at the end of last season. Zach Mettenberger, meanwhile, has been lighting up opposing defenses. Marc Sessler is not the only man that wants to see Mettenberger get traded to his favorite team.

NaVorro Bowman: The 49ers planned to play Bowman a maximum of five snaps in his first game back since his devastating knee injury from the 2014 NFC Championship. He didn't need that many, making three tackles, two for a loss, in three plays to force the opposing Cowboys off the field.

Brandin Cooks: For two straight games, Cooks has looked like the best offensive player on the Saints not named Drew Brees. And for the second straight game, just about every other Saints wideout struggled. Brandon Coleman had a night to forget while Marques Colston continues to show his age. Nick Toon will be out 2-3 weeks with an ankle injury, and Ben Watson remains the team's starting tight end. Add it all up and Cooks should get a ridiculous amount of targets this year.

Chip Kelly: While Nick Foles was throwing a pick six in the Rams' preseason game, Sam Bradford survived his first healthy drive for the Eagles. Kelly rolled the dice that Bradford could be ready physically for the season, and thus far the gamble is paying off.

Preseason fantasy owners with lots of Eagles: No one crushes the preseason like Kelly. Opponents have no idea what to do with Philadelphia's pace in September, much less August. Kelly doesn't quite know how to turn his offense "off" and it shows when the team routinely lights up preseason scoreboards.

Going down

Anyone around Tom Brady and Peyton Manning this week: Brady's two completions this week were to Patriots legends Jimmay Mundine and Dion Lewis. Brady wound up playing three drives in all, and has one first down in five series this preseason. We know this isn't even a minor concern, but we also know that it probably won't make Brady any more fun to be around the next few days.

That's especially true if he hears all the positive chirping about backup Jimmy Garrappolo's performance from the weekend where he only threw five incomplete passes in 33 attempts while leading the Patriots backups to a 21-point comeback win. Throw in all the fun Brady is having in Richard Berman's court room and Garrappolo's good looks, and Brady might possibly lose his mind before the third week of the preseason.

Manning, meanwhile, averaged 3.7 yards-per-attempt during his first game test in Gary Kubiak's system. It's hardly cause for alarm, but Manning will want to see some production in his new offense to gain confidence before the regular season.

Patriots receivers: Perhaps Brady should be upset. New England's wideouts are an absolute mess, which gives Reggie Wayne a legitimate chance to make the team. No. 1 receiver Julian Edelman hasn't practiced in three weeks, while fellow starter Brandon LaFell remains on the PUP list. Reserve Brandon Gibson is out for the year; fellow backups Brian Tyms and and Aaron Dobson are also hurt. It's a bad sign when Danny Amendola is the sole healthy guy.

Chris Johnson: The artist formerly known as CJ2K had a few weeks to impress coach Bruce Arians and make the Cardinals as a runner, because he's not going to help on special teams. Instead Johnson is going to miss the next week or two of practice with a hamstring injury.

If that didn't seal his fate, rookie David Johnson's performance on Saturday did it. Chris Johnson was essentially signed as insurance if David Johnson wasn't healthy or didn't work out. After dancing near the line of scrimmage a few times on early carries, David Johnson broke tackles and showed receiving skills in a way that Chris Johnson just can't at this stage of his career. We'd be stunned if the former Titan made the team.

Robert Griffin III Groundhog Day: "People in the building know it," ESPN columnist Jason Reid wrote over the weekend. "Redskins have no chance unless a change is made at quarterback."

It's all started again, before the regular season began. It only took one ugly preseason effort to do it. At a time when no one particularly believes coach Jay Gruden wants Griffin as a starter, RGIII's status is once again a week-to-week proposition.

Roddy White: We were worried about White's production falling off a cliff this year even before his recent elbow surgery. The Falcons should have some level of concern about their receiver depth.

Highly drafted tackles: Entering his third season, Luke Joeckel still doesn't look natural as a pass protector. We saw him get beat on a speed rush by James Harrison in the first week of the preseason, and he had a holding penalty in the second week. Bruce Arians has picked on Cardinals first round pick D.J. Humphries publicly all preseason, and we saw why. He made Chargers pass rusher Jerry Attaochu look like Lawrence Taylor. Eric Fisher, the forgotten No. 1 overall pick of the Chiefs in 2013, remains out with an ankle injury.

Redskins No. 5 overall pick Brandon Scherff has been moved to guard, and was dominated by Detroit's defensive tackles. Saints first round pick Andrus Peat got an earful from coach Sean Payton after getting worked by Jabaal Sheard. These are all more reminders that the most overused phrase during draft season is that offensive linemen are "plug and play 10-year starters" that are somehow "safe" picks.

New York Giants: The team lost another safety for the season (Bennett Jackson) and middle linebacker Jon Beason is hurt again. Jason Pierre-Paul remains missing in action and Eli Manning is 8-for-22 for 68 yards in the preseason. With Pierre-Paul out, undrafted rookie Kerry Wynn might start at defensive end. As the FootballOutsiders Almanac notes, the Giants have unbelievably bad injury luck the last two seasons. It's happening again.

Trent Richardson's chances of making the Raiders: After 10 preseason carries, Richardson has 23 yards. Sadly, that's not far below his average from last season with the Colts.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast discusses Jordy Nelson's knee injury and gives its winners and losers from Week 2 of the preseason.


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