Not a bad round of Thursday action. Plenty of takeaways, plenty of injuries, plenty of things to look forward to this weekend. For openers, we'll look in the rear-view mirror before mapping out the road ahead.
Browns 24, Lions 6
The Browns offense played exceptionally well again for the second straight week. I don't know how all the "QB competition" nonsense ever got off the ground, but Weeden is their guy, and it's really never been up for debate. The offense looked completely different with him in there than Jason Campbell, whose poor play may have even cost the Browns some strong depth at RB. Campbell lazily threw a checkdown pass to Dion Lewis in the second quarter, and Lewis suffered a broken fibula on the play, which could cost him the entire season. That's unfortunate since he ran impressively in two games. Now, the Browns have to hope Montario Hardesty can recover from his knee scope and others like Brandon Jackson can contribute. Otherwise, the team is very thin at RB behind Trent Richardson (who showed some awfully impressive flashes of what he may have in store for his owners this season).
In other Browns injury news, rookie LB Barkevious Mingo should return within a week from a bruised lung, and OG Jason Pinkston looks to have dodged a major injury bullet after several hundred pounds of players crashed down onto his awkwardly bent leg. The end result was only a high ankle sprain, and he may even be back with the team in time for Week 1.
- Yesterday morning, I wondered whether what we saw in Week 1 of preseason was the real version of the 2013 Lions defense since we can't really read too deeply into stopping the Jets offense. Brandon Weeden threw for 117 yards and a pair of touchdowns in about 1.5 quarters of work. Trent Richardson also ran for 33 yards on six carries. Bottom line? The best way I can describe it is the Lions defense resembled a girl scout troop who just found out a snake had slithered into their cabin. There's a lot of work left to do.
The Lions offense certainly missed Megatron, as Reggie Bush was the team's leading receiver with five catches for 44 yards. If the Lions continue to utilize Bush on screens, then his value will likely stay in PPR league formats as opposed to a standard one. I really doubt Bush will ever rush for 100 yards in a game with this offense, so move him down your draft boards if your league rewards RBs who consistently carry for distance.
Eagles 14, Panthers 9
- How about that? The Eaglesdo have a defense. And not only that, they didn't even allow the Panthers into the end zone all night. Am I ready to take the plunge and say you should draft Philly's D/ST? Not quite. I'm still a little scared since the Patriots essentially did whatever they wanted on offense against the Eagles a week ago. But Philly may turn into a sneaky spot start if your regular defense is on a bye and they happen to match up with a lousy offense. On the flip side of the ball, the Eagles have started running different versions of the zone read with both QBs. Despite making some curious decisions, Nick Foles put in a decent 6-for-8, 53-yard effort. Vick is still the likelier of the two to win the job, though. And LeSean McCoy already looks to be in mid-season form, showing off some dazzling moves in his eight-carry, 47-yard, 1-TD effort. He may just be solidifying his place as the No. 3 overall pick behind Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster.
- Considering how the Patriots ran all over the Eagles a week ago, DeAngelo Williams didn't have an impressive night (12 carries, 39 yards). Cam Newton threw for 112 yards, but made some poor decisions along the way and was fortunate not to have tossed a pick on more than one occasion. Steve Smith seems to be getting phased out of the offense, and the team has no real replacement for a go-to WR. It could be a long year for the Panthers with a limited number of playmakers on offense.
Ravens 27, Falcons 23
- A little better effort from Joe Flacco, who decided to look deep downfield rather than the short-to-medium quick hits we're accustomed to seeing from him. Maybe that's the strategy - with no reliable tight ends and iffy receivers, just chuck the ball downfield as far as you can and let Torrey Smith use his speed to get under it. Ray Rice only gained 10 yards on eight carries, and I suspect he'll be seeing his share of eight-man fronts as opponents will dare Baltimore's unproven WRs to beat them. Dallas clark didn't play, but Brandon Stokley did, and he wasn't targeted once. Thanks for not telling us anything, Harbaugh.
- It took some time, but Atlanta's first-team offense finally found the end zone as Matt Ryan hit Julio Jones on an eight-yard TD pass near the end of the first quarter. Now they just need to rush for one. Steven Jackson had eight carries for 42 yards and continues to impress. I'm starting to wonder if he'll make it out of Round 2 in most drafts after more fantasy owners catch on to the fact that this offense an ideal situation for him to produce big.
Bears 33, Chargers 28
- Matt Forte didn't catch any passes, but he did rattle off 74 yards and a score on eight carries and looked much more decisive in his second game under Marc Trestman. It's hard to guess how often Forte will rush for 100 yards in this offense since he's likely to catch his fair share of passes, and the Bears just won't have enough plays to call that go his way to give him the chance to reach the century mark. In other words, if you can live with 70-90 rushing yards combined with maybe 30-50 receiving yards on a weekly basis with the occasional TDs sprinkled in, Forte is your guy this year.
- Philip Rivers - yikes. He was the second-most sacked QB last year with 49, and his passing yards and touchdowns have been on the decline for two straight seasons. It's a pretty safe bet that all of the above trends will hold true this year. Rivers had two turnovers in Chicago - one pick, one fumble. He didn't seem to sync up all that well with any of the wideouts, but I'm kind of intrigued by what TE Ladarius Green bought to the table. He had five catches for 78 yards and a TD on the night, and if the Chargers can't find any reliable WR options, I'd expect them to start utilizing more two-TE sets and using Green and Antonio Gates as the primary receiving options.
What to watch for this weekend
Of all the remaining games this weekend, here are what I think are the most intriguing fantasy storylines:
» Can E.J. Manuel distance himself even more from Kevin Kolb in the starting QB race as the Bills take on the Vikings Friday? Kolb is hampered by a sore knee, although it may not really matter anymore. Manuel led the Bills to a 44-20 spanking of the Colts last week. Barring some kind of injury, it's difficult to envision Kolb starting in Week 1.
» Will Alex Smith put forth a little extra effort against his old team tonight? Usually, players don't take preseason wins or losses too seriously. It's more about individual production. Tonight, however, could be a little different. Smith wasn't bad in his Chiefs debut, going 7 for 8 for 68 yards in limited action. The Niners defense is looking forward to the chance to hit Smith as much as they can, though, and a little animosity is always a good reason to tune in.
» Will the Raiders offer any clues on who their starting QB might be? Matt Flynn would have the job if the season started today, but the loss of LT Jared Veldheer really changes things on the offensive line. The blocking won't be the same, and the team may be better off to have an elusive QB under center whose mobility can mask some of the blocking difficulties the line may experience.
» Can Arizona's defense keep up the impressive displays? The results of the first three drives they faced in their preseason opener in Green Bay ended as follows: goal-line stand, takeaway, takeaway. The game ended 17-0, and shutouts are a rarity in preseason. The Cards could prove to be a very undervalued fantasy D/ST heading into the season.
» Jake Locker has been up and down in recent practices with the Titans, and while his career may not be on the line, a poor season here would likely mean it'd be an uphill climb for him to find a job starting somewhere else later in his career. Good thing he'll have Chris Johnson helping him out. It'll be interesting to see whether CJ2K can have a big game (for however long he stays in) against a tough Bengals defense.
» How in the world will the Steelers move the ball on Monday night against the Redskins? Both running backs are banged up, they're hurting at tight end and they have an iffy group of wide receivers. It won't matter in the long run if Week 2 of preseason is unproductive, but it will most certainly matter if the Steelers find themselves in a similar situation in Week 1.