Expectations rise, position battles heat up in Week 2 of preseason
The second week of the NFL's preseason schedule is upon us, kicking off with a pair of games on Thursday night. Weeks 2 and 3 of the preseason tend to be when we see more of the starters, before the backups descend upon everyone in full for Week 4.
So, expect the action this week to be a little crisper than it was in the opening weekend of preseason play. It wouldn't take much -- 11 of 32 teams scored in single digits in their first games.
Here's what to watch in each game this weekend:
Cleveland at Green Bay: Brandon Weeden and the Cleveland starters are expected to play the entire first half, but the Lambeau Field faithful might be more interested in seeing the Browns' backup QB, Colt McCoy. There have been rumblings all offseason of a possible McCoy-to-Green Bay trade -- Cleveland is desperate to unload McCoy; the Packers could use a veteran behind Aaron Rodgers.
Cincinnati at Atlanta: Thursday night's national TV affair. Cincinnati would love to see more from its first-team offense after a so-so (brief) appearance last week, and the Bengals especially would love BenJarvus Green-Ellis to find a little running room. Atlanta's offensive starters, meanwhile, looked unstoppable against Baltimore. Can the Falcons replicate that success?
Tennessee at Tampa Bay: Jake Locker will get the starting nod for Tennessee, replacing Matt Hasselbeck. If he plays well, you can expect the Titans' QB battle to crank up a couple notches. The Bucs were pretty sharp on both sides of the ball in a win over Miami, and they'll do what they can to continue establishing a LeGarrette Blount-Doug Martin duo in the backfield.
Buffalo at Minnesota: The Bills played it fast and loose early against Washington, calling a pass play for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick on every single snap of the first quarter. Expect a lot more on the ground with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller in this one. Minnesota sat out a bunch of its veterans in Week 1 of the preseason, so Friday will mark the 2012 debuts of guys like Jared Allen and Percy Harvin.
Detroit at Baltimore: The Lions' passing attack will provide another stiff test for a Baltimore secondary that was shredded by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones last weekend. Detroit's secondary has issues of its own, but Lions fans may be more interested to see if Kellen Moore can recover from a dreadful first game.
Miami at Carolina: As of early Thursday morning, the Dolphins had yet to decide on a starting quarterback for this one -- more "Hard Knocks" drama! Either way, Matt Moore and Ryan Tannehill both ought to see extended action. Carolina just needs a better effort after a lackluster opener, especially on defense.
Jacksonville at New Orleans: This will be the third time we see the Saints, so there really aren't any surprises left. That said, Drew Brees and the offense would love to wash away the taste of last week's stinker -- New Orleans mustered all of six points in New England. Justin Blackmon's debut is the headline-grabber for the Jaguars, who would love to see their top pick quickly develop a rapport with Blaine Gabbert.
Oakland at Arizona: Scoring would be a good first step for Oakland, following a 3-0 loss to Dallas last Monday. Oakland averaged just 3.2 yards on 28 rush attempts last week -- that's a number that has to come up for this offense to have success. Kevin Kolb will be back under center to start for Arizona, as the Cardinals' never-ending QB controversy drags on.
NY Giants at NY Jets: I know you're all eagerly awaiting the Tim Tebow-led wildcat, but both these teams would settle for getting improved performances from their offensive line. The Giants also have issues on the defensive line, where they've been hammered by injuries. They'd love it if a couple guys stepped up there to help add a little depth.
Washington at Chicago: Can Robert Griffin III build off a solid first start? And, more importantly, can the Redskins' wounded O-line keep him from getting killed? Jay Cutler and Matt Forte will suit up for Chicago after sitting out Week 1, so Bears fans can get a glimpse (albeit, likely a short one) of their potentially high-powered offense.
San Francisco at Houston: This could be one of the more entertaining games of the weekend, as both San Francisco and Houston like to play hard-nosed, aggressive football up front. Each game out for the 49ers is another chance to figure out their pecking order at wide receiver.
Kansas City at St. Louis: The Chiefs will continue easing Jamaal Charles back in -- he and Peyton Hillis split duties last week in a 1-2 punch that proved lethal and unstoppable to Arizona's defense. St. Louis' opener in Indianapolis was a nightmare. The Rams' secondary couldn't stop Andrew Luck, and the offensive line couldn't protect Sam Bradford. Maybe coming home will help fix those problems.
Dallas at San Diego: The Cowboys are dealing with a rash of injuries -- the one to Jason Witten arguably the biggest -- and had just three days after a Monday nighter in Oakland to regroup for this one, so it might be the "B" and "C" teams out there. An obvious focus for San Diego is at running back, where Ronnie Brown and others must establish themselves as viable threats in Ryan Mathews' absence.
Seattle at Denver: Peyton Manning's going to get a full half of action in this one. He was solid but looked like a work in progress (understandably) at Chicago last week. Seattle again will split QB reps with Matt Flynn taking one half and Russell Wilson the other. Will Wilson be able to make up any ground in that race? Flynn, by virtue of being on the field first, might get a chance to throw to Terrell Owens, who will make his Seahawks debut in this one. He's in a fight for a roster spot, and Braylon Edwards' TD grab last week might have put T.O. in a hole.
Indianapolis at Pittsburgh: Picking apart St. Louis' defense is one thing; figuring out Pittsburgh's unique scheme is another. Andrew Luck will have his hands full, even with James Harrison missing from Pittsburgh's lineup. As for the Steelers, keep an eye on Chris Rainey. He made a strong first impression last week, and he could be in for an expanded role on offense given Pittsburgh's health woes at running back.
Philadelphia at New England: The Eagles cannot be overly happy with their defensive effort last week vs. Pittsburgh, despite big games from guys like Philip Hunt and Brandon Graham, so the Patriots' aerial assault is a good measuring stick. Keeping Michael Vick healthy for the first half would also be a positive step. Tom Brady was thoroughly frustrated by the goose egg his team laid in the first half last week, so look for him to come out firing.