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NFL Quick-Hits: Ten Observations from Week 2 of Preseason

Every Sunday our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter will share his quick-hit observations from the week that was in football. This week he hands out 10 observations from Week 2 of the 2012 NFL preseason.

1. The Jets’ offense is troubling.
Mark Sanchez is already in mid-season form. In two preseason games, he’s 13-of-17 for a dismal 80 yards with no touchdowns and one 77-yard pick-six against the Giants on Saturday night. But it’s unfair to be overly critical of Sanchez’s performance when he’s consistently on his back or starring out of his ear hole. The Jets’ offensive line has been a disaster to this point and how can anyone expect that Sanchez will take that next step if right tackle Wayne Hunter acts as a turnstile instead of a brick wall? Sanchez has been sacked six times in 23 dropbacks in preseason and Hunter allowed four sacks in total on Saturday night. The fact that the Jets tried to trade for Carolina OT Jeff Otah back in July is all you need to know about the team’s confidence in Hunter. (The trade eventually fell through after Otah couldn’t pass a physical.) But it’s not just Hunter – the entire New York offensively is struggling, so much so that Tony Sparano’s offense has yet to score a touchdown in two preseason games. Forget Sanchez and ESPN’s lovechild Tim Tebow – if the Jets don’t get their offensive line straightened, the 1960s version of Joe Namath could step off a time machine and struggle under center.

2. Let’s keep Peyton’s “struggles” in proper context.
Following the Broncos’ loss to the Seahawks on Saturday night, the headlines on Sunday focused on Peyton Manning’s two interceptions. In two games this preseason, Manning is 20-of-30 passing for 221 yards, no touchdowns and three picks. Ever consumed by projections and predictions, many message board fanatics and media members are clamoring about how Manning doesn’t look like the Peyton of old. Really? The guy didn’t play a down last year and his career appeared to be in jeopardy. Twelve months ago many said he was finished. Now, because he’s thrown three interceptions in his first two preseason games following multiple neck surgeries, everyone is concerned? Relax. Jacob Tamme dropped an easy touchdown versus Seattle and Eric Decker also put one of Manning’s passes on the ground as well. His velocity isn’t there yet and may never return. But it’s only the second week of the preseason. Give him time to get his feel back for the game before we chastise him about his numbers.

3. It’s great to see Atlanta and Baltimore open things up.
The paths of the Falcons and Ravens have run parallel to each other since 2008. Mike Smith and John Harbaugh were both hired that year, while Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan were both selected in the first round of that draft. Both teams have also been on the cusp of big things, although Baltimore has been closer to fulfilling its promise than Atlanta, which is 0-3 in the playoffs under Smith. One other key similarity between these two teams is their offensive philosophy, which is to keep the ball on the ground and play a physical brand of football. Or, should I say that was the teams’ philosophy until this year. Flacco was inconsistent against the Lions on Friday but for the most part he looked smooth running Cam Cameron’s no huddle offense. He often got the Ravens set before Detroit’s defense was settled and while he attacked with mostly underneath routes, the takeaway is that he looked comfortable. Ryan, meanwhile, has looked like a different quarterback in new OC Dirk Koetter’s system. He’s no longer just a game manager that is afraid to fit the ball into tight windows. He’s confident, he’s standing strong in a muddied pocket and he has developed a great rapport with Julio Jones. In what has become a passing league, it’s good to see that two contenders have finally come to grips with the fact that they need to adjust.

4. Enough about Bradford’s ankle.
CBSsports.com’s Jason La Canfora released a report earlier this week that stated there’s a “definite possibility” that Sam Bradford will need ankle surgery after the season. I’m not here to discredit La Canfora’s report, which was validated a day later when the St. Louis Post-Dispatch confirmed that the team does have concerns about Bradford’s left ankle holding up for the entire season. But the bottom line is that he didn’t miss one rep in mini-camp, hasn’t missed one rep in training camp, and has yet to be affected by the ankle in preseason. In practices he hasn’t had issues rolling out of the pocket and hasn’t as much as limped around the field. Saturday night versus the Chiefs, he completed 6-of-9 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. From the very first snap of the game when he hit Danny Amendola on a long crossing route for a 35-yard gain, Bradford consistently went through his progressions and found open receivers. He’s primed for a bounce back season.

5. Outside of Urlacher, optimism continues to build in Chicago.
Looking back, the Bears had one of the better offseasons of any team in the league. Had Jay Cutler and Matt Forte not gotten hurt last season, the Bears were on a collision course with the fifth playoff seed in the NFC. So what did they do? They signed a quality player in Jason Smith to backup Cutler and added Michael Bush to help take some of the rushing load off of Forte. Of course, Chicago’s biggest and best move was trading for Brandon Marshall, who finally gives Cutler a bona fide No. 1 target. The Bears also drafted South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery, who has caught seven passes for 97 yards this offseason. The offensive line is the biggest concern, but the unit looked good on Saturday night. The other question mark is obviously Brian Urlacher, who likely won’t be healthy all season. But while the defense is getting long in the tooth, the Bears have everything they need to make a deep postseason run this season.

6. The Cardinals are in trouble.
If I were to pick one defense to improve the most from 2011 to 2012, I would choose the Arizona Cardinals. Last year coordinator Ray Horton implemented the same defense that Dick LeBeau runs in Pittsburgh and while the Cardinal defenders were often caught out of position last season because of their unfamiliarity with the scheme, they improved throughout the year. With a full offseason to grasp Horton’s scheme, Arizona’s defense should be quietly consistent all season. Then again, it better be because the offense could be a total disaster. The offensive line was already struggling before Levi Brown suffered what should be a season-ending triceps injury on Friday. Not only that, but Kevin Kolb has been a train wreck in preseason and while John Skelton has displayed a little magic before, he’ll eventually succumb to the pitfalls of the offensive line. Thanks to Larry Fitzgerald, Beanie Wells, Michael Floyd and Ryan Williams, the parts are there. But Wells and Williams are injury concerns, the Cardinals are bringing Floyd along slowly and the greatness of Fitzgerald is nullified by a bad situation at quarterback and along the offensive line. It could be a long season in the desert.

7. Locker is keeping Hasselbeck in the running.
With an opportunity to perhaps widen the gap between he and Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker really struggled in his second preseason game on Saturday might. He completed just 4-of-11 passes for 21 yards and one interception and he struggled mightily in his first NFL start (preseason or regular). And because he had so many issues, coach Mike Munchak wasn’t able to declare Locker the starter this weekend. It makes sense that the Titans want Locker to emerge as the starter. After all, he’s the future and while the veteran Hasselbeck can keep Tennessee in most games, Locker is the superior athlete and has the ability to produce more big plays. But if the second-year quarterback can’t seize the opportunity in front of him, then Munchak has no choice but to allow the two signal callers to keep battling.

8. The Seahawks have an underrated battle at quarterback.
Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports joined Tony Softli and myself this morning on 101 ESPN radio in St. Louis and noted that at least one team would have drafted Russell Wilson ahead of Ryan Tannehill if Wilson weren’t as short as he is. But as SI.com’s Peter King said earlier this week, Wilson didn’t have one ball knocked down at Wisconsin. He’s a smart, instinctive kid with excellent fundamentals. If Matt Flynn didn’t sign that free agent deal this offeason, I’m not so sure Wilson wouldn’t have been named the starter by Pete Carroll at this point. Granted, Wilson has played against the second and third-teamers in preseason but that doesn’t negate the fact that he’s still making the throws, still making sound decisions, and still forcing Carroll from naming Flynn the starter heading into the third week of preseason.

9. The NFL hasn’t made the referees a priority, which is bothersome.
A couple of days ago NFL executive Ray Anderson made a comment on the locked out officials saying, “You’ve never paid for an NFL ticket to watch somebody officiate a game.” That’s true, I’ve never purchased a ticket to a NFL game hoping to a see a Pro Bowl-caliber performance from a referee. But I have paid to watch a professional NFL game, which should include professional referees. I get that the NFL is in the middle of a labor dispute and is therefore downplaying the value of the regular referees. But Anderson shouldn’t insult the intelligence of fans with comments like the one above. It’s a different game with replacement refs, and that much has been proven the past two weeks. I have no doubt that these replacements will improve with each week but it’s going to be a long time before they reach the level that the regulars are at. The NFL is not putting a high value on the regular referees, and that’s not fair to fans.

10. Questions surround Bowe.
As a whole, the Chiefs had a poor showing in their 31-17 loss to the Rams on Saturday night. But Matt Cassel did some good things, especially when he was allowed to open things up and target the middle of the field (which happens to be St. Louis’ weakness save for MLB James Laurinaitis). Jon Baldwin has also drawn rave reviews in training camp and Jamaal Charles appears to be recovering nicely from ACL surgery. Another piece of positive news is that Dwayne Bowe signed his franchise tender and has been cleared to practice. But will he learn new OC Brian Daboll’s scheme in time for the regular season? Imagine trying to master a new language before having to take the final exam in just two weeks. While there’s plenty of optimism growing in Kansas City, there’s a realistic chance that Bowe will be slow out of the gates until he can learn Daboll’s offense.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Quick-Hit Reactions from Week 12 in the NFL

Every Sunday throughout the 2011 NFL season I’ll compile quick-hit reactions from the day that was in football. I vow to always overreact, side with sensationalism over rationalism, and draw conclusions based on small sample sizes instead of cold, hard facts. It’s the only way I know how to write…

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Vince Young scrabbles 8 yards as he is being persued by New England Patriots linebacker Tracey White during first quarter New England Patroits-Philadelphia Eagles game action at Lincoln Financial Field November 27, 2011. UPI/Eileen Angelino

- Vince Young threw some ugly passes in the Eagles’ 38-20 loss to the Patriots, none bigger than his “touch” pass to Brent Celek in the back of the end zone on fourth down midway through the third quarter when the score was still relatively close. But he also deserved a better fate in the end. He threw for 400 yards and one touchdown, and should have had two more scores had DeSean Jackson not dropped two passes in the end zone. For a guy who is so concerned about his contract, Jackson isn’t playing with much concentration, focus, or drive right now. He was also benched by Andy Reid late in the fourth quarter, which signals that he’s just as likely to get the boot in Philly than a new deal.

- Matt Leinart admitted following the Texans’ 20-13 win over the Jaguars that his season is likely over. Dude waits two years to get another shot to start in the NFL and when he does, he breaks his collarbone in his second quarter back. That’s a tough break, both literally and figuratively. Now Houston’s playoff hopes ride on fifth-round rookie T.J. Yates, although it’s not like the Texans were pinning their hopes on great quarterback play from here on out anyway. If they win, it’ll be because of their running game and defense – not Leinart, Yates, or whomever they find while dumpster diving next week.

- I loved how CBS kept showing Tim Tebow sitting on the bench as the Chargers marched down the field in overtime trying to get into field goal range for a game-winning score. As if Tebow was going to summon some magical higher power to help Denver’s defense stuff Mike Tolbert on a 4-yard loss on 3rd-and-6 and force the Chargers to attempt a 53-yard-field goal instead of a 49-yarder. And then magically lead the Broncos down the field, get into field goal range and then win in come-from-behind fashion once again. I mean, let’s get real…….say again? That’s exactly what happened? For Tebow’s sake, are you serious? That CBS is genius…

- …in all seriousness, Denver’s defense deserves most, if not all of the credit for the team’s sudden turnaround. Tebow is 5-1 and has been incredibly clutch in the fourth quarter and in overtime, but without the Broncos’ defense holding opponents to 13 points or less he may not win a game. Von Miller is something special and John Fox has done wonders for Denver’s entire defense.

- Their mismanagement of Blaine Gabbert has made the front office and coaching staff in Jacksonville look like a bunch of clowns. Gabbert clearly wasn’t ready for NFL action when the Jaguars drafted him with the 10th overall pick last April, which was fine because David Garrard was still the starter. Gabbert could have held a clipboard in his first year before taking over next season or in 2013 when he was ready. But instead, the front office released Garrard and the Jaguars shoehorned Gabbert into the starting role right away. Then, because he’s been so ineffective over the past two months, the team had to bench him today against Houston in favor of Luke McCown. Had the Jags remained patient from the start this situation could have been avoided. But now Gabbert’s confidence has likely taken a huge hit and GM Gene Smith may lose his job for his poor decision-making this offseason.

- The Chargers are done and you wonder whether or not Norv Turner’s time in San Diego is up. If it is, maybe he should give serious consideration to staying an offensive coordinator. Stripped from all of his head-coaching responsibilities, I think the guy could win multiple Super Bowls again just calling plays. Granted, the Chargers only scored 13 points today but Turner’s version of the Air Coryell offense can often be very explosive. He just lacks whatever guys like Mike Tomlin have in order to inspire a football team. I don’t want to say what’s best for Turner because only he knows that. But as an outsider, I don’t think it would be such a bad thing if he finishes his coaching career up in the booth calling plays. (If the Chargers end his tenure in San Diego, that is.)

New York Jets Mark Sanchez points to the defense in the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills in week 12 of the NFL season at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on November 27, 2011. UPI /John Angelillo

- Only Mark Sanchez could throw for four touchdowns and still leave people doubting his abilities. I watched a good portion of the Jets’ 28-24 win over the Bills on Sunday and while Sanchez certainly executed in the red zone, he was shaky against a miserable Buffalo defense (which should have finished with more than just one interception). But at least New York picked up the win, which was big given New England’s victory against Philadelphia late on Sunday.

- I know it was only Minnesota but the Falcons’ offense is finally starting to resemble the unit that everyone thought it would at the beginning of the year. Matt Ryan went his second-straight game without turning the ball over and threw three touchdown passes, while Roddy White had his second straight 100-yard performance and made a sweet catch in the back of the end zone for his lone score during Atlanta’s 24-14 win. After two months of wasting his talent, OC Mike Mularkey has also finally figured out what a weapon Harry Douglas is in the slot. The next thing Mularkey has to do is stop using Julio Jones as just a complementary piece in the offense. Once that happens, the Falcons will really be firing on all cylinders.

- Speaking of firing on all cylinders, I give you the New England Patriots. Wes Welker: Eight catches, 115 yards, two touchdowns. Deion Branch (from my fantasy bench): Six catches and 125 yards. Aaron Hernandez: Six catches and 62 yards. Rob Gronkowski: A very quiet four catches for 59 yards and one 24-yard touchdown catch. Tom Brady topped everything off with 361 yards threw the air and three touchdowns. The Patriots are at their best when they get everybody involved a la the Saints and Packers. That was a very sound performance out of New England, which never panicked even though it was down 10-0 early to the Eagles.

Arizona Cardinals Patrick Peterson catches a punt by the St. Louis Rams before running it back for a 80 yard touchdown in the third quarter at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on November 27, 2011. Arizona won the game 23-20. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

- If Beanie Wells could only stay healthy he could be one of the league’s premier backs. The Rams don’t have the greatest of defenses but Wells looked explosive while rushing for a record 228 yards on 27 carries in the Cardinals’ 23-20 win. He and Patrick Peterson (who returned his fourth punt return for touchdown this season) snatched victory from the jaws of defeat (other wise known as John Skelton).

- Outside of Chris Johnson’s 190 rushing yards, it wasn’t a great effort by the Titans in their 23-17 win over the Bucs. But all wins are huge for Tennessee from here on out. The Titans only trail the Texans by two games in the AFC South and now that Houston is down to T.J. Yates at quarterback, Tennessee has a very realistic shot of catching Houston down the stretch. For Tennessee, it’s “Just win baby” from here on out.

- The Browns are something else. They find new ways to lose every week. They managed to catch the Bengals sleepwalking today in Cincinnati but they squandered a 17-7 halftime lead and a 20-10 third-quarter lead to lose 23-20 on a last-second field goal. Joe Haden (who is a star in the making) was stuck to A.J. Green like Velcro for 58 minutes and the one big play Green makes goes for 51 yards to set up the Bengals’ game-winning field goal. Unreal. And Colt McCoy does just enough not to win every week. The kid threw two touchdown passes but he his average pass went for 4.4 yards. Four-point-four yards! The Browns need a little more out of McCoy than that.

- Want to know how bad things are right now for the Vikings? Percy Harvin had a 107-yard kickoff return today and still didn’t score a touchdown. That’s tough to do.

- You have to love Mike Shanahan. Five days ago he basically said that Roy Helu wasn’t ready to be the Redskins’ full-time back and then handed the rookie 30 touches in the team’s 23-17 win over the Seahawks on Sunday. Helu finished with 108 rushing yards and 54 receiving yards, with one touchdown and seven receptions to boot. I’m sure Evan Royster will start and receive the same opportunities next week as Shanahan continues to ruin fantasy football owners’ lives.

- While the Seahawks remain a highly perplexing team, Marshawn Lynch continues to be one of the steadiest backs in the league. For the third time in his last four games, Lynch rushed for over 100 yards and for the seventh straight week, he found the end zone. It came in a losing effort but he’s a free agent at the end of the year and if he continues to run like he has, he’ll be earning a long-term contract next offseason.

Beanie Wells’ injury more serious than Cardinals let on

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 25:  Beanie Wells #26 of the Arizona Cardinals fends off Terrell Thomas #24 of the New York Giants on October 25, 2009 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

If Ken Whisenhunt were a doctor, I wouldn’t want anything to do with him giving me injury updates on a family member.

“Good news Mr. Stalter, your mother is going to be just fine. It’s just a bruise.”

“Oh, thank God Dr. Whisenhunt – that is good news.”

“Yep, and in about two weeks I’ll inform you that I had to do surgery on her.”

“Wait, what?”

“All right, you take care now.”

According to a report by the Arizona Republic, running back Beanie Wells underwent surgery earlier this month to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee – the same right knee injury that Whisenhunt called a “bruise” three weeks ago. Wells is expected to make his season debut against the Raiders on Sunday, but clearly the knee injury that he suffered in the final preseason game was more serious than originally thought.

Of course, it’s nothing new for a head coach to mislead the media about a player’s injury status. I’m not sure why Whisenhunt wouldn’t just come out and say that Wells would need minor surgery and that he’d be back in two weeks, but I’m sure he had his reasons.

That said, it’ll be interesting to see how many carries Wells receives on Sunday and this news certainly changes things for the Cardinals. If he had suffered a bruise like Whisenhunt had earlier claimed, then one could expect Wells would get a fair amount of touches in the offense. But seeing as how he’s only a couple of weeks removed from surgery, chances are Beanie could be limited against the Raiders.

I’m sure Beanie Wells fantasy owners are feeling real good about now.

“All right, you take care now.”

Quarterback could derail Cardinals’ season before it gets started

FLAGSTAFF, AZ - AUGUST 02: Quarterbacks Matt Leinart  and Derek Anderson  of the Arizona Cardinals practice in the team training camp at Northern Arizona University Walkup Skydome on August 2, 2010 in Flagstaff, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the Cardinals massive issues at the quarterback position.

The Cardinals have a couple of weakness that could be discussed, including offensive tackle, cornerback and inside linebacker. But none of them will impact their chances this season like the quarterback position will.

Gone is Kurt Warner, as well as the high-powered offense that the Cards have been able to run the past couple of years. The team traded Anquan Boldin to the Ravens during the offseason because quite frankly, they didn’t need him. (It’s also noteworthy that they felt as though he couldn’t stretch the field anymore.) The team knew the offense would focus more on the running game and less on the pass and thus, they could get by with the combination of Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston at wideout.

The look of the offense was changing and former first round pick Matt Leinart was going to usher in a new era.

But after giving him all the first-team reps this offseason and two starts in preseason, there’s growing speculation that Leinart won’t even make the final roster – nevertheless emerge as the regular season starter.

Reports have surfaced that there isn’t a lot of confidence in the locker room that Leinart can be the team’s long-term quarterback. Some have coined him “Captain Checkdown,” in reference to the way he looks to checkdown early in his progression instead of going through all of his reads and throwing downfield. While he has completed over 70% of his passes in preseason, he has failed to move the offense, which is why Derek Anderson is now the favorite to start.

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What’s next for Cardinals?

Over the past two seasons, the Arizona Cardinals have established themselves as legit Super Bowl contenders. But now that Kurt Warner has announced his retirement, the franchise has suddenly been thrown into a state of flux.

The Cardinals knew this day was coming, so in no way are they surprised by Warner’s decision. But just because they were prepared for this eventual outcome, it doesn’t mean that their task ahead of them is any easier.

Matt Leinart was drafted to be the team’s franchise quarterback, but that was when Denny Green was still calling the shots. Leinart isn’t one of Ken Whisenhunt’s “guys,” although he’s still expected to have first crack at the starting quarterback position now that Warner has decided to hang ‘em up. The problem is that some believe Leinart doesn’t have enough tools to carry on the success that Warner has had over these last two seasons.

Leinart has come under criticism for his inaccuracy, his slow release, his poor footwork and his questionable arm strength. He’s set to make $2.4 million next season and if he can’t prove that he can take over the reins of Arizona’s offense, then there’s no way the Cardinals will pay him the $7.4 million (plus a $5 million roster bonus) he’s due in 2011. He essentially has one year to prove that he can lead the team’s offense or else the Cards will look to dump him after the 2010 season.

That said, the Cardinals will likely change their offensively philosophy regardless of whether or not Leinart proves capable of taking over for Warner. Beanie Wells will become the new focal point of an offense that will have to be balanced to win, as opposed to the pass-happy unit it has resembled over the past couple seasons. The aerial show in Arizona essentially died on Friday when Warner decided to call it a career and Leinart took over. Change is coming.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

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