What to watch during Week 3 of the NFL Preseason
Someone once said the vice presidency isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.
One could say the same thing about the NFL preseason, for the most part. Most of the time we’re watching veterans go through the motions at 75 percent speed while praying to avoid injury and overmatched players with no hope of having a cup of coffee at the pro level.
However, there is one exception: Week 3. The so-called “dress rehearsal” slate of games, when starters play longer than just a series or two – maybe even into the third quarter! And while NFL head coaches are much too smart to show stuff they might actually use during the regular season, Week 3 is a good chance to get a gauge on how specific players and more are doing with just a couple short weeks remaining until games start counting.
So, let’s run down some of the things we’ll be paying attention to during dress-rehearsal week.
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1) Tom Brady
While the New England Patriots star will be forced to miss the first four weeks of the regular season thanks to his Deflategate (ugh) suspension, he’s free to get some hacks in during preseason action.
Well, one would think so.
Brady was held out of the Pats’ preseason opener for some mysterious Belichickian reason, but was all set to take the field for the team’s second tilt against the Bears. He was dressed, he was pumped, he was full of verve. But, then …
“I was ready to go, had everything on and was just trying to get something out of my shoe, and the scissors slipped, and it was just a silly accident,” Brady said via Pro Football Talk.
That “silly accident” was a cut thumb on his throwing hand. Anyone else have some follow-up questions?
Sure, it’s difficult to remove a shoe while in full uniform, but why turn to scissors? Was there no other way to remove the interloping footwear dweller without resorting to a device than can easily be used as a weapon? Isn’t that what locker-room attendants are for?
Actually, check that. His (alleged) past experience with team personnel is what got him into this suspension mess in the first place.
Anyway, Brady hopes to play on Friday against the Panthers. That’s probably a bad idea at this point. The Patriots need to him to be healthy by Week 5 and one shudders to think what damage he could do to himself in the meantime.
However, if he does play, here’s hoping he comes through with the kind of performance that can carry New Englanders during their period of Goodell-imposed Brady lent. Maybe that cut on his throwing hand will open while throwing a touchdown pass and the spilling blood will give the Patriots faithful a lovely Curt Schilling flashback.
“Gawd, did you see Tom Terrific bleeding for our sins and still getting the Pats a win? I’m buying shots for the entire baaah and we’re gonna baaahf as a group on Yaaaakey Way in Tommy’s honah!”
2) Joe Flacco
Flacco is another injured quarterback, but at least his wounds were not of his own doing. The Ravens quarterback was suffering through a horror show of a 2015 season for his team, when the final blow came via a torn ACL and MCL in his knee at the end of a Week 11 game against the Rams. However, he proved his mettle and should have forever clinched his affection from the Baltimore fans by staying in that game and directing a game-winning drive.
Fast-forward to the present day and Flacco’s surgically repaired knee will get his first taste of game action when the Ravens face the Lions on Saturday.
“It’s not super important to go out and play a game just because I need to play a game,” Flacco said to Adam Schein on Mad Dog Sports Radio. “And then, yeah, I need to get over that last hurdle, which is going out there and being a live target for guys to hit and see how I react to it.”
While the Ravens coaching staff would prefer Flacco stay on his feet, the quarterback is correct in his line of thinking. Recovering from a major injury carries a considerable mental load in addition to the obvious physical recovery. Sometimes, the best thing is for a player to take a hit and bounce back from it.
The shot of confidence that comes from saying to yourself, “I survived and I can do this,” can’t be quantified.
So, hopefully that happens, within reason. It doesn’t matter what his stats are on Saturday. Let’s see Flacco take some snaps, get off some throws and just start to get a feel of game action. That would be a win.
3) Vikings in their new home
Don’t listen to the naysayers who whine about misused public funds and higher sales taxes. That’s loser talk. Let’s be real: There’s nothing more exciting than a shiny, new NFL stadium!
And the Minnesota Vikings are christening an edifice that would make Frank Gehry proud when they host the Chargers at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
When it comes to the game, there’s nothing to really see. Just your standard preseason stuff. Teddy Bridgewater may or may not play, Philip Rivers will probably lose his cool at some point, etc.
The fun will be in the stands as the Vikings work out the kinks on their news digs. According to this story from ESPN, there have been some issues in the three previous events held at the facility. Fans attending a Chelsea-Milan AC friendly and concerts by Luke Bryan and then Metallica reported problems getting in and out of the stadium and difficulties finding their seats as section numbers are apparently tough to read while in the concourse.
But these things happen when new buildings open. It’s a work in progress. Doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a laugh at angry Minnesotans. I imagine that even when they’re upset, they’re still super polite.
4) Packers offensive line
A Green Bay Packers offense led by Aaron Rodgers finished where in 2015? Seriously? A measly 23rd in the NFL? Yuck.
There were plenty of things you could point to if you want to assign blame for such a miserable performance. Star wide receiver Jordy Nelson blew out his knee in the preseason. Previously reliable receivers like Randall Cobb had trouble getting open, running back Eddie Lacy took a special liking to burgers, etc.
However, another huge reason was the struggles by the offensive line. Injuries bit that unit in a big way in 2015 and some of the players who were forced into action were ready for anything but. As a result, Rodgers didn’t display the type of fireworks we’re accustomed to see from him. In fact, at times he looked downright average. That can’t happen.
With the new season comes renewed hope and although last year’s center Corey Linsley is dealing with a hamstring injury, the job has been returned to the man Linsley inherited it from: J.C. Tretter.
And some other familiar faces are ready to get back to action.
“We haven’t all been out there, but I don’t think there’s any concern that we’re going to lose any chemistry,” Packers guard T.J. Lang told FOXSports.com earlier this month. “Us five, we’ve played a lot of football together, and we trust each other, we know what we’re doing.”
Lang and his compatriots will get a chance to show us they know what they’re doing on Friday against the 49ers. They better have everything buttoned up because Rodgers will make his preseason debut after sitting out the first two weeks. The last thing we want to see is No. 12 running for his life again and holding on to the ball way too long on every play.
Here’s the offensive line’s goal: Keep Aaron Rodgers so safe and upright that he won’t need to take a shower after the game. Let’s see a spotless uniform. If that gets done, there’s a reason for every Cheesehead to believe that 2015 was some kind of alien aberration that will never repeat itself.
5) Geno Smith
Remember when Mr. Smith was the unquestioned starter with the Jets? Me neither. The promise he showed at times has been suppressed by one fateful punch to the jaw before last season and the rise of the bearded wonder from Harvard in Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Now, it seems that Geno’s roster spot in New York is in jeopardy. Fitzpatrick is back with the team thanks to a new contract signed after an offseason of drama and Smith has been outplayed in the preseason by second-year man Bryce Petty. Gang Green even drafted another quarterback this spring in Christian Hackenberg, who the team plans to stash as a long-term project.
No NFL team will carry four QBs on their active roster. And if Smith continues to stumble through the preseason … well, you do the math.
Get it together, Geno. Before it’s too late. This week is your big chance.
6) Ezekiel Elliott
The Cowboys pulled a typical Cowboys move when they took the talented running back out of Ohio State with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Now, Jerry Jones’ new toy get his first taste of pro football (sort of) when Big D faces the Seahawks.
The early reviews of Elliott’s talent have been positive, but one person’s opinion truly stands out.
“I love him,” Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant told ESPN. “I love the swag. He’s fierce, and I know he seems like he’s all chill and stuff, but he’s ready to get out there. He’s ready to go. He’s fired up. I’m ready to see him play. I’m ready to block for him because I know he’s going to do some amazing things for us. I’m ready to see that boy do his thing.”
When Bryant admires your swag, you know you could be something special. So, let’s see what the kid’s got.
And on another note, Thursday gives us another chance to see rookie quarterback Dak Prescott continue his murderous run through the preseason. Sure, he’s faced base defenses full of players who might not sniff an active roster in 2016, but it’s still fun to see Cowboys fans – granted, the less-than-intelligent ones – lose their minds with excitement.
Saints rookie Michael Thomas: He’s not listed as a starter, but the second-round pick has been turning heads and has drawn this comment from head coach Sean Payton: “I’ve got high expectations from him. Listen, I think he’s going to contribute early. And I don’t follow fantasy football, but, shoot, I’d try to have him. I think he’s going to do well.” Hear that, fantasy honks?
Broncos QB Trevor Siemian: The Broncos’ QB race is the most interesting and uninteresting one in the league. You could either have buttfumbling Mark Sanchez or Siemian, who nobody has heard of. However, the latter is getting the start this week and could lock down the gig for good if he does well.
Giants WR Victor Cruz: The Giants receiver has played just six games over the past two injury plagued seasons. Yet, he returned to practice on Tuesday after missing more time during training camp and the plan is for the veteran to play against the Jets on Saturday night. Hopefully, he doesn’t suffer from any setbacks.
Rams rookie QB Jared Goff: The No. 1 overall pick hasn’t really looked the part in his first two preseason games with his penchant for giving the ball to the other team and taking big hits. It seems certain the Rams will have Case Keenum under center for Week 1 of the regular season, but it would be nice to see Goff do some things build his confidence this week and to give “Hard Knocks” viewers something good to watch.