|Bill Nichols / Associated Press|
|With help from Lynell Hamilton's 95 yards rushing, the Saints kept their impressive preseason rolling.|
Week 3 of the preseason really marks the end of the preseason for me. It is followed by a short week and meaningless games full of backups and players to be cut.
The coaching staff is already preparing for the first regular-season game. The front office has its fingers crossed, hoping that none of the players going out the door in the final cuts gets hurt in the fourth preseaso game.
Of course, Week 3 is a culmination of three games and five weeks of summer-camp practices that has left an impression on me.
How important are preseason wins?
Every AFC team that finished first in their division in the preseason also won the regular-season division race last year. Miami, Pittsburgh, Tennessee and San Diego were the best at the end of the summer and in January, too. Not one NFC team that finished on top in the preseason won the regular-season race. In fact, Detroit went undefeated in the preseason (4-0) before embarking on to their infamous 0-16 campaign. You can spin preseason success any way you want.
Who have been most impressive teams?
The three undefeated teams in the NFC impress me: New Orleans, Green Bay and San Francisco.
The Saints have scored 100 points and given up only 28. The offense will score at will with Drew Brees. The Saints' revamped defense is getting the ball back for its explosive offense. The Saints have been creating turnovers in the preseason, and this team will be unstoppable if that continues during the regular season.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has averaged an impressive touchdown pass every 6.3 attempts. Keep a close eye on second-year tight end Jermichael Finley (nine receptions, 92 yards and two touchdowns). The Packers are transforming into a 3-4 fire-zone team and they have an impressive 11 sacks (one sack every 12 pass attempts). It's even more intriguing when you break down the sacks (five from defensive linemen, two from linebackers, four from defensive backs), and that pressure has helped deliver eight interceptions.
49ers coach Mike Singletary said he wanted to run the ball and he's delivered this summer. Running back Frank Gore is being rested with only seven carries for 26 yards, but the team is averaging 34 run plays a game and 170 yards a game on the ground. Glen Coffee, Kory Sheets and Michael Robinson have 85 carries for 471 yards. The defense still has some issues. With only one sack in 97 pass plays, how will the 49ers will manage to stop the Cardinals' or Seahawks' pass attacks?
Is Henry go-to guy in Cincy?
Keep a close eye on Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry. Carson Palmer told me that Henry was a, "New man," and that his troubles were behind him and he couldn't be stopped in practice this summer. Henry has caught 13 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns, while consistently moving the chains. Imagine what can happen when Palmer gets back on the field. Is this the year Henry replaces Chad Ochocinco as the go-to guy in Cincinnati?
Can Hasselbeck stay healthy?
I have some concerns about Matt Hasselbeck. Left tackle Walter Jones is out indefinitely, and Hasselbeck has already been sacked four times in 57 pass attempts. The pace of a sack every 14 pass attempts projects to close to 40 sacks in the regular season based on his career-high 562 attempts in 2007.
Can the Browns get production at QB?
The Browns claim they still have a quarterback race to decide between a duo that has produced only one touchdown pass in the preseason. Brady Quinn will go first in 2009, but unless things improve we could see all of the quarterbacks by the end of the season.
Will the Lions rush Stafford?
Matthew Stafford played well in the third preseason game, connecting on 13 of 16 pass attempts for 160 yards, but I hope the Lions don't take the bait and rush him onto the field. Daunte Culpepper gives them the best chance to win early, and the Lions can't afford another Joey Harrington-type situation. Harrington completed 63 of 112 passes for 766 yards and four touchdowns in his rookie preseason in 2002.
How will defenses stop Sanchez?
Mark Sanchez has already won the Jets' starting quarterback job, then he won the hearts of the Jets fans with a win over the Giants. Sanchez is going to be a fine quarterback, but as one defensive coordinator said to me this weekend, "We will not let him escape to his right and get outside the pocket where he does the most damage." Sanchez will be challenged by defenses to win from the pocket and not with his feet. I remember when coaches told me they weren't going to let Ben Roethlisberger escape to his left like he so often wants to do, but he still breaks contain when he needs to.
Will Raiders starters get PT on Thursday?
The Raiders need the fourth preseason game to get more work for the first team. JaMarcus Russell has only thrown 38 passes all preseason, while the offense has only converted seven of 25 third-down attempts. The defense is giving up 5.2 yards per rush, has not forced a fumble and only has three sacks. Giving up 45 points to the Saints on Saturday should not mean it's time to close up preseason shop.
Who stands out among Giants' receiving corps?
Giants fans are worried about the loss of Plaxico Burress and the number of inexperienced wide receivers on the team's roster. Rookie Hakeem Nicks will be fine as the season moves along. His eight receptions for 208 yards is a pretty good start, and he showed some big-play potential against the Jets. Broncos receiver Eddie Royal had four receptions for 80 yards in preseason last year and finished the regular season with 91 receptions for 980 yards. Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe caught one ball in the preseason of his rookie year and finished the season with 70 catches for 995 yards. GM Jerry Reese is not going to get a veteran wide receiver, but he will expect his young talented group to eliminate the drops.
Where are the touchdown passes?
I hate seeing a goose egg on a quarterback's touchdown stat line during the preseason. Starting quarterbacks, especially in Week 3, should come out and orchestrate at least one drive that ends with a touchdown pass. Can you believe Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner, Jason Campbell, Trent Edwards, Palmer and Shaun Hill have combined for 174 passes this summer, but not one touchdown pass? I know things will be better in the regular season, but it still isn't a nice stat to look at with the season nearly upon us.