First Down/Fourth Down: Injuries could decide QB races in Buffalo and New York
Just don't get hurt. That's the mantra for NFL players during the dog days of the preseason, and in particular over Week 3 of the exhibition schedule since most teams rest their starters in Week 4.
Unfortunately, Saturday's 10-game slate was marred with carnage -- Pittsburgh's Jarvis Jones went to the hospital with a chest injury; Arizona offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper broke his leg, which may knock him out for the season; Redskins defensive back and punt returner Richard Crawford tore at least one ligament in his knee.
And the Bills and Jets may have had their QB races settled by injuries sustained in Saturday's action.
Buffalo was hit hard by the injury bug during a 30-7 loss to Washington. In addition to losing Kevin Kolb to a concussion, the Bills also saw Stephon Gilmore and Da'Norris Searcy leave hurt. Running back C.J. Spiller delivered a scare, too, when he came up hobbled after a run play, though he returned to action.
The Kolb injury could push Buffalo's starting quarterback job into the arms of E.J. Manuel -- who may have won the gig anyway, despite being on the shelf for the rest of the preseason himself due to a knee injury. Kolb has dealt with repeated concussion issues during his NFL career, so he could be sidelined for an extended period of time.
The Jets' situation at QB suffered a similar fate Saturday, when Mark Sanchez (playing in the fourth quarter, for some reason) injured his throwing shoulder on a hard hit. That setback came after rookie Geno Smith, making his first start, imploded after an early touchdown drive.
Buffalo and New York took their time with their respective QB decisions. A couple twists of fate may have made up their minds for them.
First Down: Alec Ogletree.
This is what St. Louis had in mind when it used the No. 30 pick on Ogletree in this year's draft. The rookie linebacker enjoyed a night in the Rams' 27-26 loss to Denver that mirrored Carolina LB Luke Kuechly's stalwart effort Thursday.
Ogletree forced Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman into a fumble, then scooped up the loose ball and took it home for a TD. He later picked off a Peyton Manning pass to stuff a Denver drive. The Broncos rallied in the second half, but St. Louis took a 20-10 halftime lead before each team started liberally substituting -- and Ogletree was hugely responsible for that.
Fourth Down: Matt Ryan's comfort level in the pocket.
The Falcons' run game, with Steven Jackson in the lead role, has appeared more formidable each of the past two weeks than it was in a mediocre opening. The passing game didn't look quite so good. Ryan threw for 138 yards in a 27-16 loss to Tennessee, despite Roddy White's absence. But Ryan found himself under constant fire and was sacked five times, in a little more than two quarters of work. Atlanta allowed six sacks in all, while falling to 0-3 this preseason.
First Down: Lamar Miller's grip on the starting RB job in Miami.
Did Daniel Thomas really have a shot to eat into Miller's playing time in Miami or was that idea simply a motivational ploy for Miller? Either way, the apparent pressure from Thomas helped spark Miller a bit in a 17-16 loss to Tampa Bay.
Miller averaged 4.4 yards on eight carries -- hardly eye-popping numbers, but far superior to the three yards a hesitant Thomas picked up on seven attempts. If there was any doubt of which guy would see more action in the Dolphins' backfield, it was answered Saturday.
Fourth Down: Philadelphia's offensive tempo.
The Eagles beat Jacksonville, 31-24. Their quarterbacks (Michael Vick and Nick Foles) combined for nearly 300 yards passing, and RB Bryce Brown nearly hit the century mark on the ground. So what is there to complain about?
Well, for coach Chip Kelly, probably plenty. Though Philadelphia found a way to put up points, including 15 in the fourth quarter, the offense looked more disjointed than it had in previous weeks. It certainly moved more slowly, with Vick taking the play clock down to the wire on multiple occasions. Vick's turnover issues also popped up again. He tossed an INT and also put the ball on the deck, though Philadelphia recovered his fumble.
First Down: Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Andrew Luck knows Reggie Wayne will deliver a ton of catches this season and T.Y. Hilton will burn some defenses deep. Should Heyward-Bey flash to his potential too, the Colts' offense could be extremely hard to defend. Heyward-Bey was sharp Saturday, in a 27-6 Indianapolis win over Cleveland, hauling in three catches for 33 yards. His best may have come on a quick slant near the Cleveland goal line, where Heyward-Bey reeled one in despite heavy traffic over the middle.
Fourth Down: Jamaal Charles.
Kansas City escaped Pittsburgh with a 26-20 overtime win. For the third straight week, though, the Chiefs failed to generate much momentum on the ground -- a problem that's becoming more troubling the closer we get to the regular season.
Charles, after sitting out last week, managed only 10 yards on seven carries in Pittsburgh. Coupled with a 13-yard effort in the preseason opener, Charles is sporting a yards-per-carry average of 1.9 in two games under Andy Reid. The backups were not any better against the Steelers, either. Knile Davis, Shaun Draughn and Cyrus Gray combined for 23 yards on 11 carries.
First Down: Tony Romo and the Dallas passing game.
Romo's lasting legacy in the NFL will depend on if he ever can get the Cowboys over the top in the postseason. He continues, however, to be one of the most productive and underappreciated QBs in the league in the meantime.
Romo was sharp against Cincinnati Saturday, in a 24-18 Dallas win. He connected with Dez Bryant and Miles Austin for a touchdown each and finished 13-of-18 for 137 yards. All told in the preseason, Romo was 26-of-36 for 367 yards and, most importantly, no interceptions.
Fourth Down: About those San Diego receivers ...
Consider the Chargers' passing game a work in progress. Playing without No. 1 wideout Malcom Floyd, who hopes to be ready for Week 1, Rivers posted a measly 41.7 QB rating during San Diego's 24-7 win at Arizona. His yards-per-attempt average: 3.9.
To put that latter number in perspective, the only QBs with a lower mark during the 2012 regular season were T.J. Yates (3.8 on 10 attempts), Matt Leinart (3.5 on 33) and Brock Osweiler (3.0 on four).
First Down: Kirk Cousins trade rumors/Fourth Down: Buffalo's defense.
Closing back where we started, with the Redskins' win over the Bills. The ineffective Buffalo defense pairs hand-in-hand with the Redskins' QB situation here because, well, the Bills made Washington look capable with Rex Grossman and Pat White at QB.
Washington, aided by its own stout defense, controlled time of possession and racked up more than 450 yards against Buffalo. The Bills allowed Grossman to throw for 171 yards, while White added 96. That's all on top of the 208 yards rushing Mike Shanahan's group piled up.
How this relates to Cousins, who sat out Saturday with an injury? Well, the general consensus, as rumors of teams interested in Cousins have continued to swirl, has been that Washington cannot afford to trade its backup given Robert Griffin III's knee situation. Cousins stepped in last year and led Washington to a key road win, and he started this preseason in strong fashion. But Grossman has been adequate over the past two weeks -- he was 10-of-16 with a TD and INT vs. Pittsburgh last Monday -- and White, thanks to his dual-threat abilities, might be pushing for a roster spot. Trading Cousins still would constitute a substantial gamble by the Redskins. That said, if a dazzling offer comes along, the recent play of Grossman and White might push Washington closer to pulling the trigger.