NFL Preseason Week 2 Observations

+ There’s no player that excites me more than C.J. Spiller heading into the 2013 season. He’s going to be the focal point of Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett’s up-tempo, run-heavy offense in Buffalo. He flashed his speed and strength against Minnesota on Saturday, knifing through the defense while displaying quick feet. It’s just too bad that he’ll face 8-man fronts all season.

+ Speaking of the Bills, their pass rush looked good against the Vikings. There were times when Jerry Hughes ran himself out of plays but he has great acceleration off the snap. He, Manny Lawson and Marcell Dareus stood out, but the entire starting front seven for Buffalo had a solid night.

+ The transition from Rob Chudzinski to Mike Shula in Carolina hasn’t been seamless for Cam Newton. On Thursday night in Philadelphia, Newton struggled with errant passes, throwing receivers open and hitting targets in stride. Most of his completions came with receivers coming back to the ball, which is fine if a quarterback is accurate. But Newton completed 57.7% of his passes a year ago and thus far in preseason he’s 11-for-23 (47%). Shula figured to rely heavily on DeAngelo Williams and the running game, and it’s unlikely that that plan has changed.

+ Nick Foles was 6-for-8 for 53 yards and a rushing touchdown on Thursday night against Carolina, but Michael Vick was clearly the more efficient quarterback. He was poised and confident in the pocket, displayed good mobility while extending plays with his feet, and got the ball out of his hand quickly (a requisite in Chip Kelly’s offense). While Kelly has avoided naming a starter for Week 1, it’s safe to assume Vick is the current frontrunner…

+ …Now, whether or not Kelly can keep Vick healthy is a different subject altogether. Kelly’s offense will be predicated on short-to-intermediate passing out of multiple personnel groupings and formations. The read option also appears to be a key feature, which suits Vick’s skill set but also puts him at risk for injury. Even if Foles doesn’t win the starting job out of camp, history tells us that Vick’s backup needs to be ready at a moment’s notice. It’s only a matter of time before the veteran suffers some sort of aliment.

+ We’ll see what happens when opponents start game planning to beat them on Sundays but thus far the Browns have been intriguing. Brandon Weeden looks comfortable and confident running Norv Turner’s offense and a star is rising in tight end Jordan Cameron, who made an incredible catch for a touchdown versus the Lions on Thursday night (one of his two scoring receptions in the game). Save for guard John Greco (who was manhandled by Nick Fairley on consecutive plays in the first half), the offensive line has also performed well and the defense might turn out to be the most underrated unit in the NFL by seasons end. Usually it takes about 10 games before Ray Horton’s system takes hold but his players in Cleveland have taken to it like a fish to water.

+ Dirk Koetter finally has his power running game to complement his vertical passing attack in Atlanta. The Falcons ran Steven Jackson out of the “11” and “12” personnel groupings on Thursday night in Baltimore, trying to match hat-for-hat and allowing him to do what he does best: Run downhill. Thanks to Matt Ryan and his assortment of weapons in the passing game, that offense was already difficult to stop. If they can build a lead and then run clock in the second half of games, they’ll avoid having what happened in the NFC title game when they allowed the 49ers to erase a 17-point deficit.

+ It’s becoming evident that the Ravens will be held back by their lack of weapons in the passing game. Torrey Smith took a simple slant for a touchdown against the Falcons on Thursday but William Moore also took a horrible angle on the play and turned a 7-yard gain into a 77-yard score. Without Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin drawing attention in the short-to-intermediate game, opponents will likely bracket Smith in coverage and force somebody else to beat them. Visanthe Shiancoe won’t be that somebody else.

+ The run-blocking units for San Diego and Chicago had good nights on Thursday. Matt Forte finished with a 9.2 average and Ryan Mathews rushed for 5.0 yards per clip, as both running backs flashed burst and acceleration through open lanes. Rookie Kyle Long stood out for Chicago, as he consistently was stout at the point of attack and finished blocks in the running game. Sadly though, Philip Rivers was often on his back and Jay Cutler had pass rushers around his feet throughout the first quarter. Pass protection will be a major question mark for both teams all season.

+ Alex Smith completed 7-of-8 passes last week against a Saints team that played a soft zone, but he struggled against a more aggressive 49er defense on Saturday. He’ll be able to dink and dunk past lesser opponents but what happens when the Chiefs are trailing and he has to beat opponents vertically in the fourth quarter? There’s no question he’s an upgrade over Matt Cassel and Kansas City is going to win a few contests on Andy Reid’s game-planning alone. But Smith remains limited as a passer and thus, it’s hard envisioning the Chiefs beating teams like Denver or New England if they’re able to make it to the postseason.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

2011 NFL Free Agency Predictions: Where will Nnamdi Asomugha land?

Seattle Seahawks Golden Tate (81) can’t hold on to a Matt Hasselbeck pass as Oakland Raiders Nnamdi Asomugha (21) defends in the second quarter at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California on October 31, 2010. The Raiders defeated the Seahawks 33-3. UPI/Terry Schmitt

With the lockout in the rearview mirror, NFL fans can now put away their “Lawyer Jargon for Dummies” textbooks and start hitting the rumor mill once again.

Since I’m a fun guy who likes to have some fun and enjoys a little fun, I’ve decided to have a little fun by trying to predict where some of the top free agents will land over the next two weeks. Remember, this is all for fun and is not to be taken too seriously. If you’re the asswipe who reads these things and immediately gets in a tizzy because you disagree, then be aware of my one and only rule when it comes to predictions: Don’t criticize me if you don’t have the stones to leave your own predictions in the comments section.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s have some good ol’ fashion family fun! (Have I overused that word yet? Did the joke land? It wasn’t funny in the first place? All right…) Here are 10 free agents and my predictions for where they might land. In the “Hedging my bet with” section, I list an alternative to where I think said free agent may wind up.

Nnamdi Asomugha, CB: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It has been reported that the 2011 NFL salary cap will (roughly) be around $120 million, which leaves the Bucs with (roughly) $60 million to spend in free agency. Of course, that doesn’t mean that cheapo Malcolm Glazer will open his wallet, but we do know that the new CBA comes with a salary cap floor. Thus, teams like the Bucs will have to spend something in free agency. The Bucs have built a solid, young core centered around quarterback Josh Freeman. With Aqib Talib’s legal situation up in the air, they have a definite need at corner and if teams like the Eagles, Cowboys and Jets feel as though Asomugha’s price tag is too steep, maybe the Bucs will step in and shell out big money to land the top free agent on the market. (And if you’re wondering about whether or not Asomugha is a fit for Raheem Morris’ defensive scheme, don’t worry about it because the man is a fit for every defense.)
Hedging my bet with: New York Jets

DeAngelo Williams, RB: Carolina Panthers
The emergence of Mike Goodson and Jonathan Stewart make Williams expendable but the Panthers are still the frontrunners to retain him in my eyes. He says he wants to stay in Carolina and while he’d be a fool to not at least test the market, I think he’ll eventually stay put. The Panthers realize they need a good stable of running backs no matter who starts at quarterback this season, so re-signing Williams is still a priority despite expanding rolls for Goodson and Stewart.
Hedging my bet with: New York Giants.

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Panthers thinking about shutting down DeAngelo Williams?

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 26: DeAngelo Williams  of the Carolina Panthers against the Cincinnati Bengals during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 26, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The hits keep coming for the Panthers.

Adam Schefter is reporting that the Panthers are “strongly considering” placing DeAngelo Williams on injured reserve. The team’s star running back has been dealing with a foot injury and while some expected him to return this Sunday, his arch is still giving him problems.

With the Panthers well out of contention, it would make sense that they would shut Williams down for the rest of the season in order to not risk further injury. Of course, Jonathan Stewart (concussion) and Tyrell Sutton (ankle) are also dealing with injuries themselves.

In Carolina’s loss to the Bucs last Sunday, Mike Goodson rushed for 100 yards on 23 carries. He also caught three passes for 13 yards although he did lose a fumble as well.

Unless Williams is 100%, I see no reason why Goodson shouldn’t get the majority of the carries. Again, this has become a lost season for Carolina and there’s no sense in risking further injury to Williams if he’s going to favor his foot. While he may not do any more structural damage to his arch, he may injury something else because he’s not completely healthy.

Update: Williams’ season is officially over, as the Panthers have placed him on injured reserve.

Ah, so that’s why Jimmy Clausen fell into the second round

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 19: Jimmy Clausen  of the Carolina Panthers warms up before their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium on September 19, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Back in April, some pundits felt as though Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen had first round talent. But good luck trying to find anyone who will admit that now.

Rookie quarterbacks struggle in the NFL – it’s just the way it is. But so far, Clausen has played in all five of the Panthers’ games and has completed just 34 of his 69 pass attempts for 393 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Worse than his numbers is the fact that he’s shown zero ability to move Carolina’s offense whatsoever.

The Bears (Carolina’s opponent on Sunday) have a solid defense and they’re liable to make any quarterback look bad. And hey, if I started against Chicago today, I’d probably crap down my pants, too. But with the way Clausen played in his team’s 23-6 loss on Sunday, it makes you wonder what John Fox and Co. saw in him to make him a second round pick in April.

Clausen completed just 9-of-22 passes for 61 yards and an interception before finally being benched in the fourth quarter. He showed zero accuracy, displayed no rhythm and was rarely on the same page with his receivers. I get that he’s only a rookie, but he hasn’t shown anything that would indicate that he actually belongs in a starting role.

You hate to pin a loss on one player, but because Clausen was so ineffective, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart had nowhere to run and even though the defense picked off Todd Collins (who may have played even worse than Clausen if that’s possible) four times, the Panthers still only managed six points. It’s almost like Clausen’s putrid play had a domino affect on the rest of the team and it doesn’t say a lot about Matt Moore’s game that the Panthers would rather go with the rookie than with him.

Of course, it’s not like Clausen has much to work with in the receiving game. Steve Smith was out with an injury, although one would have thought that Clausen would apperciate that seeing as how Smith has torn him a new one at least once a day since the rookie arrived to Carolina. The Panthers’ wideouts are young and inexperienced, although again, Clausen has shown almost zero intangibles to this point. Most of the time you can say, “That rookie QB makes a lot of mistakes, but you can see the zip on his passes,” or “He just needs a little time to mature, but you can see that he’s accurate and has control of the huddle.”

We’ve got crickets on Clausen.

Today was a new low for the Panthers and it may be a while before they pick up their first win.

Jay Cutler out for Sunday – will Mike Martz be forced to rely on the run?

Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz stands on the field during warmups before a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at Soldier Field in Chicago on August 21, 2010.   UPI/Brian Kersey Photo via Newscom

Mike Martz has long established that he would rather sit next to a crying baby on an airplane than run the football any more than he has to on Sundays. In fact, if it were truly up to him, he may scratch the run entirely and throw the ball on every down.

But he has a problem this week. The Bears are in Carolina to take on a winless Panthers team and Jay Cutler is still feeling the affects of the concussion he suffered last Sunday night in New York. That means Todd Collins will have to start, which doesn’t bode well for Martz’s pass-happy offense.

Collins was beyond putrid last weekend and it would behoove the Bears to keep the ball on the ground and allow their defense to win the game. Chicago has two capable running backs in Matt Forte and Chester Taylor, but thanks to Martz’s pass first and ask questions later approach, Da Bears are gaining only 68.8 yards per game on the ground this year.

If Martz can’t adjust, the Bears are in trouble. The Panthers may not be in the win column yet and they certainly don’t have the pass rush that the Giants (Chicago’s opponent last weekend) have, but they hung with the Saints last Sunday and have two running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart that can wear down a tired defense late in games. If Chicago’s defense is on the field for long periods of time thanks to the ineptitude of Collins, then Carolina can take the game out of rookie quarterback Jimmy Claussen’s hand and lean on their ground attack.

I don’t know what’s least likely to happen, Collins actually throwing the ball for more than 2.5 yards per pass or Martz changing his offense to a run first approach.

Or Carolina winning a game.

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