What to watch for in Week 3 preseason games

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  • By Jelani Scott and Grant Gordon NFL.com
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Week 3 of preseason football is upon us! It's typically around this time every year that the tune-up games start to resemble the real deal as teams try to incorporate their starters a little more. Here are some of the biggest storylines to monitor this weekend (all times Eastern):

Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans (8 p.m., Sunday, NBC)


Steelers: The starters are likely to be in play for Pittsburgh come Week 1. If that happens, it will be the first preseason action for Ben Roethlisberger and likewise the first opportunity to see him helm a bit of a new-look offense. New because there's no Antonio Brown, of course. How Roethlisberger develops chemistry-wise with JuJu Smith-Schuster as the No. 1 and the likes of James Washington taking on bigger roles will start to come to the forefront.

Titans: Ryan Tannehill has been outstanding in two preseason games. He's completed 19-of-27 passes for 214 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Is there a QB controversy in Tennessee? Likely not, but Tannehill has been great (in the preseason) and this is a pivotal season for starter Marcus Mariota, who struggled in the preseason opener and in an improved Week 2 outing went airborne to get into the end zone for a two-point conversion. Is he feeling added pressure due to Tannehill's play? Who knows, but it'll be interesting to see if Tannehill can keep up the stellar showings.

Games Played


New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals (7:00 p.m., Thursday)


Giants: For a minute, it looked like the Giants receiver cupboard was bare but the group has stepped up thus far.

With Golden Tate (suspension) out to start the season and Sterling Shepard (thumb) still working his way back, guys like T.J. Jones, Bennie Fowler Jr. and Cody Latimer have emerged as viable options. Latimer led the way versus the Bears in Week 2 with two catches for 60 yards, including a 40-yard bomb from rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, while Fowler secured the game's first TD on a pass from Eli Manning. Jones leads the team with nine receptions for 104 yards and two TDs through two games. Keep an eye on what this group does in Week 3.

Bengals: After another solid outing in Week 2, rookie QB Ryan Finley continues to settle in as Andy Dalton's backup. In Cincy's 23-13 victory over Washington, Finley went 20-for-26 for a game-high 150 yards and two TDs. He displayed solid poise in the pocket and looked confident going through his progressions. Finley's improvement has essentially forced last year's QB2 Jeff Driskel into a different role, a testament to how quickly he has come along during camp. He'll look to build on his strong play in the team's preseason home opener.

Washington Redskins at Atlanta Falcons (7:30 p.m., Thursday)


Redskins: The offense still has a lot to figure out and it's shown in two losses, particularly on third down. In Week 2, the 'Skins were an abysmal 2-of-12 on third down after going 7-of-16 a week prior. Sure, Washington's lone TD versus the Bengals came on third down after a 55-yard dime by rookie QB Dwayne Haskins, but there hasn't been much else to talk about.

Also, as if it wasn't already enough of a talking point, the on-field product has made it even clearer: the Redskins are missing Trent Williams. Through two games, the offensive line has allowed seven sacks for a loss of 57 yards and 10 QB hits.

Falcons: Let's face it, now isn't a good time to be a QB for either of these teams. Against the Jets in Week 2, Matt Ryan was pummeled numerous times in limited action and absorbed three of the team's five sacks. Since the Hall of Fame game, the Falcons have surrendered 10 sacks and 30 QB hits.

The run game has also struggled to get going as a result, even with running back Devonta Freeman slowly rejoining team after playing two games in 2018. Freeman made his preseason debut in Week 2 and had one carry for two yards. Ito Smith, Freeman's relief, and the rest of the group have been relatively quiet, failing to crack at least 90 total yards in two of their three games.

Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots (7:30 p.m., Thursday)


Panthers: Whether it's his arm or how he chooses to wear a bucket hat, Cam Newton has remained a hot topic all offseason. Thursday will be his first chance to perform on the field as he makes his preseason debut. Newton is entering 2019 as a 30-year-old QB coming off another right shoulder procedure, and he also altered his throwing motion.

2018 was a year Carolina would much rather forget, but the impact Newton's injury had on the season will continue to linger. Newton will be joined in the starting lineup by backfield cohort Christian McCaffrey and go-to target tight end Greg Olsen to complete the offensive starting lineup. The battle for his backup wages on after a rough Week 2 loss, but all eyes will be on QB1 for however many series he plays against the Pats.

Patriots: Very few starters have seen reps, but those who have are proving that anyone can contribute playing for defecto DC Bill Belichick.

Last week against the Titans, third-string defensive tackle Byron Cowart set the tone for the eventual 22-17 win with a thunderous sack on QB Marcus Mariota on the second snap of the game. Rookie DE Chase Winovich also made an impact with three tackles and 1.5 sacks. As a whole, the defense has given up only two TDs in two games, both through the air. Look for the depth to continue to develop in Week 3.

Baltimore Ravens at Philadelphia Eagles (7:30 p.m., Thursday)


Ravens: The possibility of losing cornerback Tavon Young (neck) for the season is devastating for the Ravens secondary. Cyrus Jones, a fourth-year CB, will have another chance in Week 3 to show that he can fill in for Young as a nickel corner.

Against the Packers in Week 2, Jones showed good energy, registering five tackles and a QB hit. Week 1 saw the 25-year-old display his ball-hawk capabilities when he stepped in front a pass by Jaguars QB Tanner Lee and returned it for a 19-yard TD. The team could still look to CB Brandon Carr for slot help but Jones could leap him as the starter.

Eagles: Back in July, rookie RB Miles Sanders said he expects the ball to be "spread out a lot." Through the first two games, that's what has happened, albeit with mixed results. In the Week 1 loss to Tennessee, the Eagles played five RBs, who combined for 16 carries for 36 yards and no TDs.

In Week 2, the group bounced back, playing six this time and combining for 128 yards and two TDs on 29 carries. In his first preseason appearance, second-year talent Boston Scott shared reps with Sanders, Jordan Howard, Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey and led the way with 43 yards. With two prep games left, running backs coach Duce Staley and run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland will have decisions to make.

Green Bay Packers at Oakland Raiders (8:00 p.m., Thursday)


Packers: If coach Matt LeFleur is to be believed, we might not see QB Aaron Rodgers at all in the preseason. His absence opens the door for new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to see who would make a more reliable relief option between Tim Boyle and DeShone Kizer. Against the Ravens in Week 2, the offense wasn't able to get anywhere with either under center; Kizer, who is on a bit of a redemption tour, got the start and went 5-for-10 for 70 yards while Boyle went 12-for-21 for 107 yards and a TD.

It was good to see wideouts Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison and TE Jimmy Graham make their preseason debuts, but, without Rodgers out there, we won't know anything about what this offense can do. Here's to hoping he sees some reps Thursday.

Raiders: Despite how much of the news cycle he continues to occupy, don't expect to see Antonio Brown on Thursday. What you can look forward to is whether or not the defense can capitalize on its strong showings.

The Raiders made a plethora of offseason additions and some are already showing their value; against the Cardinals in Week 2, linebacker Brandon Marshall, safety Lamarcus Joyner and DT Ethan Westbrooks, who was signed on July 30, registered sacks. 2019 fourth overall pick Clelin Ferrell and 2018 third-round pick Arden Key have also shown their potential as explosive options at defensive end. Save for two late TD drives in Arizona when the game was out of reach, the defense has only allowed four scoring drives -- three of which were field goals -- before the fourth quarter in two games.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Miami Dolphins (8:00 p.m., Thursday, FOX)


Jaguars: A big development coming out of Jaguars camp Tuesday is the news that most of the starters will play on Thursday. Coach Doug Marrone expects the first-teamers to get some reps, excluding WR Marqise Lee, who was recently reinstated off the PUP list, TE Geoff Swaim (foot) and DT Marcell Dareus (elbow).

The Jags were held scoreless in Week 1 before putting up just 10 points in last week's loss to the Eagles. Having CB Jalen Ramsey, RB Leonard Fournette and new QB Nick Foles, among others, on the field should give Marrone's squad a needed confidence boost.

Dolphins: Another week, another chance to add more film to help the Fins commit to a QB. Obviously, there's still time, but it looks like the competition between Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick will be decided at the 11th hour.

Aside from that situation, it's worth noting how much life the defense showed in Week 2's narrow loss. LB Sam Eguavoen had a great night -- a game-high eight tackles, two for a loss -- and DE Charles Harris was similarly beastly, finishing with four tackles, 1.5 sacks and four QB hits. Rookie DT Christian Wilkins had two tackles and a timely sack in the red zone to force a FG late in the second quarter. All three are starters who have the tools to cause trouble for opposing teams.

Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7:30 p.m., Friday)


Browns: Is it possible to have too much depth? Being in that situation is good for any football team and the Browns have embraced every part of this "dilemma" in their two preseason wins. Third-string QB Garrett Gilbert has looked sharp and could put himself in position for a roster spot while rookie RB D'Ernest Johnson made his case with 10 carries for 53 yards and three punt returns for 62 yards in a Week 2 win.

In Week 2, the offense followed up a 334-yard, two-TD performance with 225 yards and three TDs, again without its No. 1 and No. 2 WR options. On defense, rookie LB Mack Wilson and starting LB Genard Avery have looked impressive, as well, and should fit in well with DE Myles Garrett and Co. So yeah, look out for this team right here.

Buccaneers: It was close, but, despite a rough night from the QBs, the Bucs managed to eek out a Week 2 victory. Jameis Winston went 2-for-4 for 24 yards and backup Blaine Gabbert added 42 yards on five completions in limited action. Rookie TE Tanner Hudson was a notable offensive standout; he recorded six receptions for 93 yards and a TD pass from reserve Ryan Griffin (14/21, 201 yards).

Thanks to a 6-6 stalemate for much of the game, Tampa's margin of error down the stretch was as narrow as the shoelaces on Matt Gay's cleats but the rookie kicker came through with a game-winning 48-yarder. The defense played decent overall, as it registered five sacks and eight pass deflections. Rookie CB Jamel Dean prevented a TD with a big pick in the end zone that nearly proved a difference-maker. Hopefully, the team can get more from its first-teamers in Week 3.

Buffalo Bills at Detroit Lions (8:00 p.m., Friday, CBS)


Bills: Week 2 looked like a breeze for the Bills against the Newton-less Panthers, thanks largely in part to the efficiency of QBs Josh Allen and Matt Barkley. The tandem completed 17 of 21 attempts for a combined 212 yards and a TD (Barkley to rookie WR Duke Williams late in the second quarter). Also, RB LeSean McCoy made his preseason debut and rushed for six yards and a score on four carries. An area the team should look to correct in Week 3 would have to be discipline; the Bills registered 11 penalties for a total loss of 100 yards in the win over Carolina.

Lions: Detroit's first TD of the preseason came on a fumble recovery by rookie safety Will Harris against the Texans in Week 2. The Lions would go on to lose 30-23, but should be encouraged by what they did on defense. Six pass deflections, an interception, a sack, 75 tackles and the forced fumble; a defensive stat line that should make coach Matt Patricia and DC Paul Pasqualoni proud. They will look to build on this, along with the other two phases, in Week 3.

Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings (1 p.m., Saturday, NFL Network)


Cardinals: As previously noted by NFL.com's Kevin Patra, Kyler Murray and the Cardinals' vanilla offense hit a rocky road in Week 2 against the Raiders, who threw the kitchen sink at the No. 1 overall pick with all the schemes and fortitude of a regular-season game. Murray was 3-of-8 for 12 yards, a miserable enough line as is, but compounded by a pair of sacks, one of which resulted in a safety. While the Cardinals' offense isn't putting on display all that it can offer and most defenses (save the Raiders) aren't in the preseason, either, Murray is going to see plenty of pass rushers coming unblocked in coach Kliff Kingsbury's scheme. After all, Murray's mobility is supposed to be perfect for this offense to avoid such troubles. Murray better showcasing his skills -- no matter what flavor the offense is -- will be under the microscope against an aggressive Vikings defense, but perhaps more so will be his ability to bounce back after a rough outing.

Vikings: In the NFC North, kicking competitions are all the rage, in case you didn't know. The Vikings sent a fifth-round pick to the Ravens for Kaare Vedvik, who's all but a certainty to handle punts and kickoffs. However, it was Vedvik's prowess putting kicks through uprights that drew notice after he was perfect on four field goals and two extra points against the Jaguars in Week 1 of the preseason. Dan Bailey has hit on 75 percent of field goals in each of the last two regular seasons -- with the Cowboys in 2017 and the Vikings in 2018. Seeing Vedvik take over kickoffs, punts and kicking duties would not be a stretch given his skillset and the price tag paid to get him. Saturday's game and the kickers' opportunities and performances will be notable in who ends up kicking FGs and PATs for Minnesota in the regular season.

Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys (7 p.m., Saturday, NFL Network)


Texans: The offensive line, as it has been for a while, continues to be an area of concern for the Texans. Coach Bill O'Brien has stated Matt Kalil is the left tackle, but he's hardly looked good when he's played and didn't play last week. Last week was when rookie and starting guard Tytus Howard broke a finger. Whether Kalil is injured or whether he plays, the question is if he can be counted on as the starting left tackle. Depth is also an issue. How the starting offensive line performs -- and the group that ends up out there -- is a major storyline for the Texans on Saturday and beyond.

Cowboys: Provided Ezekiel Elliott is still holding out by the time kickoff comes around in Dallas on this Saturday summer evening, all eyes will be on Tony Pollard. The rookie has been thrust into the spotlight with Elliott elsewhere and Jerry Jones quick to compliment Pollard after a ho-hum Week 1 performance and to glow about him after a terrific Week 2 showing. If Pollard produces another positive game it will draw notice -- though so too would a poor outing. Just as much notice will come after the game when Jones weighs in. There's always plenty to watch for in Big D, but the prevailing storyline 'round those parts right now is the running back situation -- who's there and who's not.

Chicago Bears at Indianapolis Colts (7 p.m., Saturday)


Bears: Coaches Matt Nagy and Frank Reich are each bucking tradition and sitting most of their starters in Week 3. Mind you, kickers don't get official statistics for starts, but just who the No. 1 kicker is for the Bears remains in question. Amid a flurry of criticism on how he's handled the Bears' circus-like kicking competition, Nagy has not officially announced Eddy Pineiro as the Bears' kicker even though they waived his only competition in Elliott Fry. How Pineiro fares on Saturday will be under the spotlight just as he's been since he joined the Bears no matter if it was at a tryout, practice or preseason game. Should Pineiro impress in Indy, maybe, just maybe this will be the day and time in which Nagy declares the Bears have themselves a kicker.

Colts: Reich is planning on sitting most of his starters. That now includes quarterback Jacoby Brissett, as Brissett will sit out and that might be telling as to Andrew Luck's status for the opening of the regular season. Just going off conventional wisdom, if Reich's sitting his starters in preseason Week 3 and Brissett isn't playing, doesn't that mean he's a starter for the regular season? Perhaps not. With so many starters on the bench, Saturday's game for the Colts will very much be a look into their depth. One player to watch could be receiver Deon Cain, who's coming off a seven-catch, 80-yard outing against the Browns.

New Orleans Saints at New York Jets (7:30 p.m., Saturday)


Saints: Drew Brees is set to start in Gotham on Saturday. Sure, it's only the preseason, but any chance to view one of the all-time greatest quarterbacks is a reason to tune in. It will likely be a cameo appearance, but Brees' time on the field is also a first look at an offense that's the driving force in the Saints being a contender for the Super Bowl once again.

Jets: This is a big year for Sam Darnold and the sophomore quarterback is set to have his new center debut on Saturday night. Five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro Ryan Kalil should see his first preseason playing time with the Jets and his first in any NFL uniform other than the Carolina Panthers, for whom he played 12 seasons, either starring with or battling injuries. It's often written or said that a young quarterback's best friend is ... a good tight end ... a good running game, etc. A young quarterback, an old quarterback or any quarterback's best friend is a good offensive line and Kalil's chemistry with Darnold and as the center -- literally and figuratively -- of the Jets' offensive line will start to take form in live action on Saturday.

San Francisco 49ers at Kansas City Chiefs (8 p.m., Saturday)


49ers: In many ways, all eyes were on Jimmy Garoppolo when he made his return to live action on Monday against the Broncos. It was his first time back since suffering a torn ACL in the 2018 regular season. And that happened in Kansas City. So, Garoppolo returns to K.C. looking to exorcise the demons of that fateful afternoon, but more likely the larger quandary is if Jimmy G can exorcise the demons of less than a week prior against the Broncos. Garoppolo's return was horrendous. He was 1-for-6 for zero yards and a zero QB rating, a lower number than the one interception he threw. "I'm very hard on myself, especially that night watching the film, the next day watching the film. At some point, you have to move on," Garoppolo told NFL Network's MJ Acosta.

Chiefs: From the moment the Chiefs used their first 2019 draft pick on Mecole Hardman (a second-round selection) there's been talk of his explosiveness and his potential within the Chiefs' offense. So far, so explosive. On his first touch of the preseason, Hardman scored on a 17-yard reception and scored against the Steelers from exactly the same distance in Week 2. He's had big gains in the return game as well and is just plain fun to watch. How well he continues to do in the preseason might well provide a preview of how often he's used by Andy Reid when the games really mean something.

Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Rams (9 p.m., Saturday)


Broncos: Entering their second seasons, Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman have high expectations upon them. Neither looked great on Monday against the 49ers as they combined for 14 yards on 10 carries. No matter who emerges as the No. 1 back, both will be vital points of the Broncos offense and it's time to see them start to get into the regular season swing of things.

Rams: Former Jaguars starter Blake Bortles has started each game at quarterback for the Rams so far and is all but certain to be the team's No. 2 QB behind Jared Goff. However, the No. 3 spot has developed into quite a competition. Brandon Allen and Alliance of American Football alum John Wolford are battling it out with the winner getting No. 3 and the loser likely getting walking papers. Allen has completed 20 of 33 passes for 149 yards, no touchdowns and one interception, while Wolford has connected on 11 of 17 passes for 80 yards. Judging just by the stats, it would seem the Rams want Allen to win the job as he's garnered more opportunities, but Wolford is fleeter of foot and more accurate. We'll see how it plays out.

Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Chargers (10 p.m. Saturday, NFL Network)


Seahawks: Rashaad Penny underwhelmed as a rookie. He's now forecasted to be part of a 1-2 backfield punch with Chris Carson. Penny needs to start showing some punch. In his two preseason games he's gained only 13 yards on 12 carries. Penny has plenty of potential, hence the Seahawks spending a 2018 first-round pick on him. But it's time for him to start fulfilling that potential, preseason or not.

Chargers: With Melvin Gordon now likely to extend his holdout into the regular season, Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson will draw even more attention. The two have done no favors to Gordon in the leverage department as both have looked good in the preseason just as they did in the regular season last year when they got their chances. Ekeler is likely to get the No. 1 role going into the season, but he's hardly the bell-cow-type back so it will be a committee approach. And now, sadly for Chargers fans, it will be a preview of what's in store for the regular season -- at least at the onset.

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